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Penn State Football: A New Offense Means A New Type Of Quarterback

by on April 14, 2016 11:20 AM

There is going to be a moment at some point during Penn State's season when people will write and talk about Christian Hackenberg again.

Because for better or worse there wasn't a throw he couldn't make, or a distance he couldn't launch the ball. You can say whatever you want about any given pass during his career and why some of them went well and others didn't. But at the end of the day Hackenberg has and continues to have the talent to awe. If he didn't his draft stock wouldn't be up for debate, and neither would his future in the NFL.

So sooner or later, Trace McSorley or Tommy Stevens, or maybe even both of them, will do something that reminds you that they aren't Christian Hackenberg and that for all the criticisms you had, you miss his arm and his brain. That's not to say either are doomed to fail, but they're new at their job, and everyone makes mistakes when they're new on the job. And when the new guy messes up, everyone misses the old guy. That's just how it works.

If all three were the same type of quarterback the comparisons would be reasonable to a certain extent. It's probably not fair to hold either Stevens or McSorley to the same standard as Penn State's all-time leading passer in the first place, but if all three were pocket passers in a pro-style offense, you would be in the very least comparing apples to apples.

But that really isn't the case.

That's what makes Penn State's third season under James Franklin and first under new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead so intriguing. The sanctions continue to be a thing of the past, the offensive line continues to improve. The talent grows and the roster deepens. 

Most importantly though, Penn State will finally play with an offense that Franklin wants to run. He has never been a pro-style coach and his teams have never looked like the Patriots. He is a rebuilder, a man taking less and getting more out of it. That requires creativity and misdirection, it means finding new ways to stack the odds against the defense.

The result is a widening gap between the offense you're used to seeing at Penn State and the type of quarterback you're used to seeing and what the Nittany Lions will march out onto the field this Saturday and this season. It's a big jump, and it could be a big game changer too.

"It's significant," James Franklin said Wednesday of the difference in style of play between types of quarterbacks. "It's a different offense, i think as we've all discussed ad nauseam, but when you're running a pro-style offense and you've got a pro-style quarterback that's going to stand in the pocket and deliver the ball, that puts a major emphasis on the offensive line. You're not going to ask the quarterback to do certain things, whether it's zone read or the run pass options, and things like that. So yea, it's a different philosophy."

Right or wrong none of those things Franklin has wanted to do were going to happen with Hackenberg. He at his best was elusive enough to gain 10-yards. At his worst he was laying on his back before anyone knew what happened. For as much as Franklin and John Donovan were criticized for how they used Hackenberg, a certain amount of the offense's shortcomings were essentially predetermined. The program's best option was anointed by loyalty and was best used in a situation where Penn State was likely doomed to fail.

"So what we want to do is we want to recruit guys like Trace and Tommy in terms of you think those guys can run, a drop back offense, they can do some of the run-pass options, some of the mobility things, it just creates more flexibility for you," Franklin added. "It allows Joe [Moorhead] to play to those strengths. It's not that those other offenses can be successful but where we are offensively and where we are in terms of the development of our offensive line, I think this made the most sense for us and the for the two quarterbacks we have returning."

In a sense it makes 2016 something of a second attempt of Year 1 under Franklin. The first two years were just trying to get the car running, now it's time to learn how to drive. The offense in place is something he has wanted for years, the talent coming in is starting to reflect his efforts on the recruiting trail.

That doesn't mean that Penn State will be any good in 2016. The schedule isn't friendly and frankly the roster is still a work in progress across the board. If the Nittany Lions stay healthy they might steal a few games, but once the injury bug hits, and it will, depth will start to shine through.

But it does mean that things will be different, a little bit more exciting and maybe a little bit easier to watch. Two years of yelling for change and you finally got your wish.

And that also means as McSorley or Stevens scamper around the field and make mistakes that you can't yell from your seat that you wish Hackenberg was back. Because truthfully, in this offense they'll hardly be playing the same position as he did.



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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