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Penn State Football: Nittany Lions Already Making History In Point-Happy Season

by on September 13, 2016 8:40 PM

When Penn State hired Joe Moorhead as offensive coordinator this past offseason words like tempo, speed and scoring were regularly thrown around. Where John Donovan had failed, Moorhead was expected to make up for lost time, an uptempo attack putting points on the board in bunches and giving the program new life along the way.

This was no longer going to be your father's Penn State where 21 points and defensive football was going to be enough to win. If nothing else, if Penn State was going to lose it was going to be fun to watch.

But despite all of this talk about Penn State becoming the Oregon of the east there was still the assumption that the Nittany Lions would continue to have a reliable defense. Penn State has always been --with a few exceptions-- a defensively minded program and there was no reason to expect that to change.

And while that very well may continue to be the case, the 2016 season even after just two games has been anything but a defensive showcase. Where Penn State has spent the past several years relying on its defense to win games, suddenly it feels like there is a very real potential for a season where it's the offense that will have to save the day.

So does that change James Franklin's mindset heading into a game?

"Yeah. I think it changes my approach," Franklin said on Tuesday. "So like taking the ball, and things like that, that we've done or tried to do if you win the toss, taking the ball to start the game, do some things like that, going for two early on, you know, trying to get an advantage."

"You know, obviously, when we have three defensive linemen go on to the NFL, we knew it was going to take time to get those guys to grow and mature. So, yeah, it changes things. There's no doubt about it. And, obviously, just what we're doing, that's a little more of the DNA who we're going to be now on offense. It's a combination of those two things. It affects how I'm going to some of the decisions I'm going to have to make throughout the game, and then obviously, we want to get our defense back playing the way they're capable of playing so that now you're in a situation that not only is your defense playing extremely well, but your offense is able to score a bunch of points. And now you get in a situation where now your opponent has to throw. And that's something that we've shown we can do a good job rushing the passer. What we need to do a better job is be more consistent in the run game and force people in the throwing situations."

Franklin isn't wrong, Penn State is replacing three NFL players with younger and largely unproven talent; and because the Nittany Lions have struggled in the early going doesn't mean that won't change down the road.

Even so Penn State is facing a bit of history already. In total there have been 127 points scored in the Nittany Lions' first two games so far this season, a mark that has only been matched or bettered in the 130 year history of the program on six occasions. The most recent coming in 2008 when Penn State and its opponents combined for 135 points through two games. Penn State itself has scored 72 points so far after eight quarters, something that has only been matched or bettered 27 times since 1886.

If that offensive pace keeps up remains to be seen, although with the likes of Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan State on the schedule it seems more likely than not that the total points in each game won't be dropping off anytime soon.

As far as Franklin getting more aggressive or at least in the mindset of a offensive style game, Penn State has won the coin-toss 15 times since he took over the job in 2014, opting to receive the ball on six occasions. Of those six times Penn State has gone on to score twice, both coming in the form of field goals. In total through 28 games of the James Franklin era, Penn State has scored on its opening drive just eight times and only twice with a touchdown.

But that of course is a stat largely weighted down by the fact Penn State has until just this year largely operated with an offense looking to score 20 points rather than 40, so the results are perhaps predictable.

Although as quarterback Trace McSorley noted on Tuesday, it's not like they aren't trying to score.

"You're not thinking all right, this try we can punt the ball, something like that," McSorley said dryly. "You're trying to score points every time you get on field on offense."

The question does remain though if this is the kind of team Franklin wants to have, where it's a race to the finish line rather than an old school defensive battle. Ultimately the perfect world is a little bit of both, Penn State isn't abandoning defense, but the focus is becoming more about putting up points rather than simply hoping to keep the opponent off the board. An obvious sentiment, but a noticeable paradigm shift nevertheless.

"To be honest with you, I've been in a situation kind of with both," Franklin said. "I think if you look around college football in general, that's really how things have changed. I mean, I remember a few years back, if you had 400 yards on offense, that was considered a good day. Those days are gone. If you scored 30 points, that was considered a big-time scoring day. Those days are gone. People are winning games 58-62, things like that. It's common more across the country. We want to play great defense and great offense. We're still working with that and allowing young players on the defensive side of the ball an opportunity to mature."

The irony is undoubtedly not lost on Franklin that if his 2015 defense could play with his 2016 offense that the Nittany Lions could be a Big Ten favorite, but like most things in life it never quite works out how you want it to.

But if he can take solace in anything, it's that the points finally seem to have arrived and with young talent on the defensive side of the ball, if they can get just a little bit better, Penn State might not be far away from its most complete team in years.

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For those of you who will try and figure it out. 127 points through two games has been matched or bettered in:

  • 1995 (127)
  • 1894 (132)
  • 2008 (135)
  • 1991 (137)
  • 1944 (140)
  • 1999 (142)

Penn State has scored 72 or more points through two games on 27 occasions. 11 of which happened between 1977 and 2008.



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