It has been a long Winter, Spring, and Summer awaiting the return of Penn State football. There has been a lot of anticipation, restlessness, and uncertainty, but with that uncertainty, there have been answers and some new faces. We may still not know how the offense is going to fair, but one thing we can be sure about is the Nittany Lion defense. The returners are ready to lead and the new guys are ready to step into big shoes. Regardless of the uncertainty, Penn State football is back this week.
Penn State Football is Back: What Do We Know?
The captain of the offense, Trace McSorley, and the leader that Penn State has known since 2016 is now playing for the Baltimore Ravens trying to prove to the NFL what Nittany Lion fans already know. Miles Sanders is about to be the running back for the Philadelphia Eagles. Amani Oruwariye and Mr. Do-Everything, Nick Scott, are also hoping to play on Sundays. So, where do the 2019 Nittany Lions stand and what do we know?
The Nittany Lion Offense
Sean Clifford has been named the starting quarterback over Will Levis. The redshirt sophomore was named QB1 a little over a week before the season opener against Idaho. Clifford played in four games last season in relief of McSorley, throwing two touchdowns in the process.
Moving on from the quarterback position, the offensive line may finally be in a good space. Two-year starter Steven Gonzalez is returning at left guard. Last season’s starting center, Michal Menet, is also returning. Another veteran is right tackle Will Fries, he has started 20 games over two seasons. Redshirt freshman Rasheed Walker will likely get the nod at left tackle. He appeared in four games last season as a true freshman. There is finally depth at this position and veterans to help lead the way.
The running backs and wide receivers have a lot of young talent. It will likely be a running back by committee approach this season, with Ricky Slade leading the pack. Journey Brown and Noah Cain should be in the mix as well. The wide receiver group is a different story. There were way too many drops and miscues a season ago. Speedy KJ Hamler will undoubtedly be the go-to target for Clifford. The redshirt sophomore amassed 798 total yards from scrimmage and six total touchdowns last season. There are even more young guys alongside him that are looking to prove themselves under new wide receiver coach Gerad Parker. Finally, Pat Freiermuth the sophomore tight end that had eight touchdowns and 368 receiving yards as a freshman, will be a reliable target for Clifford.
The Defensive Side
The Nittany Lion defense has for the most part always been reliable. This season, the defensive side of the ball is no different. The defensive line is returning Yetur Gross-Matos and Shaka Toney. Gross-Matos had 36 solo tackles, 20 for loss, two forced fumbles, and one recovered a season ago. Toney complimented Gross-Matos well. He had 23 total tackles, seven for loss, and five sacks. These two will anchor a defensive line with a nice depth of young and experienced players. The young being Jason Oweh, who as a true freshman played in two games a season ago. Oweh is expected to make big strides in 2019.
Moving to linebacker, Penn State returns ESPN Freshman All-America, Micah Parsons. As a true freshman Parsons appeared in 13 games and started one. Further, he had 82 total tackles, four for loss, and two forced fumbles. Parsons was all over the field a season ago and often played with reckless abandon. Look for more of that in 2019, but in a seasoned sophomore who will now be a leader. Also, this group has fellow sophomore Jesse Luketa who is expected to get more playing time. Further, returning are Cam Brown and Jan Johnson. This is an experienced group with a lot of depth. Look for the linebackers to have a big year.
There are still several questions that remain. Will this offense be able to compete effectively with the loss of many playmakers? Will the defense have to bail the offense out more times than Penn State would like? Finally, how far can this season go for the Nittany Lions? Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure, as the great George R.R. Martin said, “a lion doesn’t concern itself with the opinion of sheep.” The Penn State football players will have to remember that this season and keep out the noise in order to succeed.