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Penn State Football: Four Thoughts Heading Into Media Day

by on July 30, 2018 1:00 PM

I'm not entirely sure if the exact date of Penn State football's media day has been made public yet. It's apparently something the media is supposed to keep secret so as to prevent the hordes from taking off the afternoon and scaling Beaver Stadium to get a look at the team. Or something.

Needless to say it's soon, like in the next few days.

Regardless, for a season that feels like it only just ended, the Nittany Lions will head into training camp with many new and old faces. It's a weird transition period between the bulk of James Franklin's most promising recruits and the remains of a team that catapulted Penn State back into the national spotlight. 

So there are reasons to be optimistic if you're a Penn State fan. It's difficult to think of the Nittany Lions being out of any game when they have Trace McSorley on the field. It's also hard to know what to expect from a defense that even at its best the past two years, was occasionally porous at inopportune moments, even if it ultimately stepped up to the plate more often than not. There is good and bad, reasons to be hopeful and reasons to have doubt.

There are millions of questions that can be asked, some more important than others, some just fleeting curiosities. But here are four on my mind right now.  

Is the Tommy Steven's package worth the risk?

Even if it's never officially the company line, let's assume for a moment that the Tommy Stevens package was largely predicated on giving Stevens a reason to stay at Penn State. A little something extra for being a very good investment for the future while not really being a big part of very successful years in the present.

Well now Tommy is staying, for a lot of reasons. So is the package really worth it? As exceptional an athlete as he is, Stevens isn't a better runner than Miles Sanders, he doesn't have better hands than Juwan Johnson and from a practical standpoint he doesn't throw the ball better (maybe farther?) than McSorley.

Even if you like the idea of trickery ever once and a while, Stevens has yet to pass the ball out of a package, one that has rendered him to a handful of feel-good but competitively meaningless touchdowns. There isn't any evidence that down three points against Ohio State that putting Stevens in the backfield is going to confuse a defense to the point of swinging the game.

Really the question is this: Does Tommy Stevens bring so much to the table on the field that it's worth risking losing the second most capable quarterback on the roster? McSorley is going to run the ball as much, if not more than he has in the past, and his risk of injury ought to be at an all-time high. Is Stevens twisting an ankle on a screen pass reception that someone else could have caught worth it?

Probably not.

Let's say you're down three late in the game?

If you're looking for more philosophical questions than schematic ones, this comes to mind. It's probably a safe bet that Ricky Rahne can pilot Penn State's offense with a similar competency as Joe Moorhead for the majority of the game. He proved as much against Washington and by all accounts Rahne just knows what he's doing.

What is an interesting thought though is what happens when the game is close and Penn State needs Rahne to make a pressure call. Moorhead by virtue of his resume, has had far more experience at that than Rahne has. And sure, maybe you look at the USC, Ohio State and Michigan State losses, all needing a late score, all failing to do so, and you don't feel like Moorhead was so untouchable. So what has Rahne learned from those moments that might prevent them in the future? That's where everyone really makes their money.

2016 comeback kids, 2017 first punch champs, 2018?

Another mental question, one that can't really be answered before the season starts, but an interesting thought nevertheless. What is this team? 2016 was full of comebacks, 2017 was jumping on teams and never looking back. Take out some pieces and add a few new ones and nobody really knows what to expect. Maybe this team will be a grinder, never being behind by much, never leading by too much, but never out of the game either way. Only time will tell, but sometimes you can decide who you'd like to be. Perhaps more importantly, can they take a punch? And what happens when they do?

Who helped who?

If you're into multi-sport narratives this one is for you. Penn State football and basketball will both get to answer it this season. Has McSorley been so good because Saquon Barkley was on the field? Can he be as good without him? For basketball, was Lamar Stevens so good because Tony Carr was on the court? Can Stevens be good without Carr?

The answer is probably that both players will be just fine, but it's a reasonable thing to wonder, how Penn State is going to manage an offense that doesn't have Barkley in the backfield. There's no reason to think the offense is going to just turn into a dysfunctional mess, but it's hard to ignore the impact Barkley had on the game just standing there doing nothing.

How do you adjust to him not being there, even if you can make up for the plays with other players?

That as much as anything will define the season.



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