By Thomas Frank Carr
5. Trace McSorley
Sometimes the most obvious answer is the right one. This will be the first time in three years that Penn State will have a new quarterback under center. Most fans are excited about the dual threat nature of McSorley’s game and that will be on display today.
However, that is not the part that Nittany Lion fans should be looking for. McSorley must show the sam poise, accuracy and decision making that he did in the bowl game last year. He’s an underrated passer who has a crisp spiral and good mechanics, he must show that he can maintain those and grow as a starting quarterback. When asked what he wants in a quarterback, new Offensive Coordinator Joe Moorhead explained,
“I think you’re looking for someone who can beat you with his brains, beat you with his arm and beat you with his legs….but you want a passer who can run rather than a runner who can pass. Simply because what we ask our quarterback to do in our passing game from a drop back perspective.”
McSorley can’t simply be an athlete playing quarterback. He must run and be looking to throw, not running because he isn’t diagnosing the defense. By all accounts so far, McSorley can do that. However, he must prove he can sustain that type of play.
4. Offensive Involvement
For all we’ve talked about the new Penn State offense, we haven’t truly seen it in game action (Blue White doesn’t count). Will it be the Barkley/Godwin show in 2016? Will Saeed Blacknall be a consistent contributor on offense? Gesicki? Hamilton?
There are a lot of mouths to feed in this Nittany Lions offense now, and that is a good problem. It will be on McSorley to distribute the ball and get everyone involved. Teams were able to key on Barkley last year and force Penn State to find other ways to move the ball offensively. They have the weapons so let’s see them used.
Execution will be imperative in this offense that, from all reports, will be going at breakneck speeds. If they cannot consistently move the ball and continue drives, the whole thing will fall apart.
If the offense can sustain drives, then there will logically be more opportunities to get more players involved with a larger number of plays. Simple? Yes. Easy? We’ll see.
3. Givens the Opportunity
Kevin Givens is 275 pounds, and that’s being generous. We’ve talked in depth in the past about his rise to a starting role in the Nittany Lions defense. It simply cannot be stated enough. Givens must perform above expectations against the run for the Penn State defense to excel.
Yes, the defensive line does rotate. The do play multiple lineman in a game and players like Antoine White and Tyrell Chavis will be given plenty of opportunities this season, but Givens will be the key to the Penn State defense being truly dominant. He has the explosion and the pass rushing skills to be a terror for teams, but if he cannot function on running downs, it will matter very little. If you think of the defensive tackle rotation as a bullpen, Givens must develop into their ace.
2. Game Management
One huge criticism of James Franklin over the past two years has been game management. Each year players are expected to learn and grow to become better at their craft for the next year. Franklin should be held to the same standard. While today’s game shouldn’t be a close one (woe for him if it is), he must show improvement of handling game situations like clock management, 4th down decisions, two minute drill and so on.
The simple fact is that this is Franklin’s duty during the course of a game as he explained this summer,
“Brent Pry is the head coach of the defense. Joe Moorhead is the head coach of the offense. Charles Huff is the head coach of special teams. When I’m pulled out of defensive meeting or I’m pulled out of an offensive meeting, I feel really good about what’s going on when I’m not sitting there.”
Fans have criticized Franklin for this approach. They wonder what he brings to the table if he doesn’t have a specialty like Bill O’Brien did, or Nick Saban does at Alabama, or Joe Paterno did earlier in his career.
Franklin must show that he has learned from his mistakes and has grown as a manager. On game day he theoretically doesn’t have to worry about the offense, the defense or the special teams.
Simply put, we’ll see how much better Franklin is at coaching this year.
The simple fact is that no matter how good Kent State’s defense or secondary may be, Penn State has no excuse to struggle against this team. Penn State must dominate they way a Division One program should on opening day. Last year games were in question against lesser opponents in the first month of the season. That cannot happen this year. Yes, last year’s five game home stand proved to be much tougher than anticipated, but it wasn’t that much tougher.
To take the next step towards being a top 25 team, Penn State must show that they are the superior coached team and more physically talented than whatever Kent State has to throw at them. You don’t have to show everything in your new offensive repertoire; just simply be impressive.