Penn State Football: Mid-season Evaluations for Offensive and Defensive Lines
This is the third in a five-part series reviewing each position at the midway point of Penn State’s season. The Nittany Lions (4-2, 2-0 Big Ten) have a bye this week and return to action Oct. 20 at Iowa.
Wednesday, we take a look at the offensive line and defensive line.
Penn State is getting what it is paying for in offensive line coach Mac McWhorter, considered by many to be the best at his position in the nation. It would not be a stretch to say McWhorter is perhaps the most important hire Bill O'Brien made outside of strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald. O'Brien lured McWhorter out of retirement, and he signed a two-year contract. Whether or not McWhorter stays on longer remains to be seen, but Penn State is seeing an immediate return on its investment.
Penn State has allowed eight sacks in six games. That only trails Michigan (five) and Iowa (six) for the Big Ten lead, but both teams have only played five games so far. Matt Stankiewitch has been a rock at center and has consistently been on the same page with good buddy Matt McGloin on center-quarterback exchanges.
John Urschel, the introspective 4.0 mathematics major, still has a year of eligibility remaining. Donovan Smith, the left tackle and one of Penn State's best young players, is only a redshirt freshman. Miles Dieffenbach and Angelo Mangiro are two young offensive linemen who have been regulars in McWhorter's rotation.
Run blocking has picked up in recent weeks, as the line has helped pave the way for Bill Belton, Zach Zwinak and Michael Zordich. But the success of this offense moving forward will largely depend on the play of McGloin, and some nasty defensive lines await on the back end of the schedule. Penn State's offensive line, a lightning rod for criticism in previous years, in part, because of the division of interior and exterior linemen in squad meetings, will play as much a role in that as any.
Picking between the defensive line and linebackers for best unit on the Penn State defense is like picking between "The Shawshank Redemption" and "The Godfather" — you really can't go wrong with either one.
Senior defensive tackle Jordan Hill will get his chance at the NFL next season, and redshirt freshman Deion Barnes has potential to become Penn State's next great end rusher. Of the team's 15 sacks, 9.5 have come from the defensive line. The 15 is good for third in the conference behind Nebraska and Ohio State.
It's this simple for Penn State: As long as Larry Johnson is coaching, this unit will be a force.