Our Penn State Nittany Lions Preview 2019 notes that the Lions had a disappointing 2018. The 2018 Penn State Nittany Lions did not post double-digit wins, as they had the previous two seasons. Penn State finished third in the division with a 6-3 conference record, with their overall regular-season mark being 9-3. Big Ten losses to Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan hurt mightily. The Nittany Lions played Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl, losing 24-27.
Penn State averaged 33.2 PPG (32nd), while their defense limited teams to 20.5 PPG (23rd). The Nittany Lions used their rush attack a lot, averaging 204.9 YPG (29th). They were ranked 76th (218.1 YPG) in passing yards and 45th in total yards (423.0 PG). The Lion defense was tough against the pass, holding teams to 181.5 air yards per game (15th). However, versus the rush, Penn State struggled, allowing 169.0 YPG (72nd). Total defense yards came to 350.5 per game (34th).
Penn State Nittany Lions Preview 2019 – Offense
Penn State’s most experienced unit on offense is the line, as four starters return. In some ways, that’s good news, as the Nittany Lions must replace star QB Trace McSorely and top RB Miles Sanders. McSorely was responsible for over 2,400 yards of offense with almost 800 being rushing yards. He ran for 12 scores and threw 18 TD passes. Sanders ran for over 1,200 yards last season, scoring nine times. Sophomore Sean Clifford, who tossed seven passes in 2019, gets the nod at QB. The two top receivers from last season return.
Sophomore WR K.J. Hamler (42 REC, 18.0 AVG, 5 TDs) has a fine freshman season last year. He was this team’s most productive receiver. TE Pat Freiermuth (26 REC, 14.2 AVG, 8 TDs), who was also a freshman last year. Led the team in TD catches. Sophomore Ricky Slade (257 YDs, 5.7 AVG, 6 TDs) gets the start after seeing limited action in 2018. In addition, talented true freshman Noah Cain and sophomore Journey Brown are ready to go and will fight for playing time. One of these three players should step up and take over the primary rushing job. There’s fine depth here.
Defense and Special Teams
The Penn State defense is deep and experienced. Our Penn State Nittany Lions Preview 2019 finds that the line is solid as two top starters return. Senior DT Robert Windsor (39 TKLs, 7.5 SCKs, 3.5 TFL) and junior DE Yetur Gross-Matos (54 TKLs, 8 SCKs, 12 TFL) are a dynamic duo. The LBs include sophomore WLB Micah Parsons (83 TKLs, 1.5 SCKS, 3.5 TFL) who topped the Lions in tackles last year. Senior SLB Cam Brown (63 TKLS, 2 SCKs, 4.5 TFL) recorded six PBU and five QBHs. Two of four starting deep backs return, including FS Garrett Taylor (71 TKLs, 7 PBU, 3 INTs). Senior corner John Reid (24 TKLs, 8 PBU, 2 INTs) proved to be a stout defender last season.
Our Penn State Nittany Lions preview notes that just about everyone on special teams returns, except for explosive punt returner DeAndre Thompkins (18 RT, 9.8 AVG, 1 RT). Hamler, who averaged 26.1 YP kick return, returns. As a freshman last season, placekicker Jake Pinegar was good on 53-of-55 extra points and 16-of-24 field goals. He struggled from 40-49 yards out, hitting just 5-of-11 attempts. He did not attempt anything from 50 or more yards out. Punter Blake Gillikin (64 Punts, 44.0 AVG, 20 In20) saw his net slump and accuracy diminish. Last season, he had two punts blocked.
Coaching and Recruitment
Head coach James Franklin (45-21 Penn State, 69-36 Overall) starts his sixth year at the helm. Prior to coming to University park, Franklin served as Vandy head coach for three years. Offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne returns for his second season. He’ll focus on working with the QBs. Co-DCs Brent Pry and Tim Banks have gotten solid results. In the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions’ incoming class is second only to OSU’s. Of their 23 new players, 17 are four-star recruits and five are three-star. One comes in as a five-star.
Our Penn State Nittany Lions Preview 2019 – Final Word
This Penn State Nittany Lions Preview 2019 finds that this team has a relatively easy schedule, although October is no cakewalk. In that month, the Nittany Lions are at Iowa and Michigan State and they host Michigan. In late November, PSU plays at Ohio State. The Nittany Lions could enjoy a double-digit win season.