Going into this season, it was uncertain what to make of this Penn State offense.
A first year starting quarterback and running back, and really no proven receiving threats outside of KJ Hamler and Pat Freiermuth.
After two games, the layout of this young Penn State offense is starting to take shape and the personnel is falling into place.
KJ Hamler is leading receiver with 177 total yards on seven receptions.
Pat Freiermuth has been the most reliable target for Clifford, catching nine total passes for 124 yards.
Young quarterbacks often find security in targeting their tight ends and Clifford is not different.
The scoring has been spread out evenly for the receiving group — Freiermuth and Hamler each have two touchdowns to their names, while Jahan Dotson has also tallied a pair.
This balanced passing attack is a good sign for the offense since it shows that Clifford can rely on multiple guys to get open, which will be key down the road when playing against Big Ten defenses.
“We have speed at almost every position, it’s pretty cool playing with guys who are as fast as you and faster than you.” Dotson said. “The tight ends are the fastest group of tight ends I’ve seen in all my football years.”
The speed of the receivers and tight ends has been on full display in the passing game thus far.
The offense has used a handful of double-move routes to get their playmakers in space and its paying off.
Clifford has utilized the pump-fake on those double move routes extremely effectively while displaying solid accuracy on deep throws.
Passing attack vs ground game
Through two games, the distribution between running and passing plays has been very even, with a slight emphasis on the passing game.
Penn State has run the ball 67 times while passing 59, but those numbers are a bit skewed in the sense that the team has won each of the first two games by a wide margin, which incentives the run game late.
The Nittany Lions have scored 15 total touchdowns this season, and the split between rushing and passing has been strikingly even as well, with eight rushing touchdowns and seven passing.
The balance of this offense reflects the amount of trust between each of the position groups, knowing that each can rely on the other to make plays, no matter the play call.
“I think we’ve become very familiar with each other and [with] our playing style,” Dotson said. “The biggest thing we have is the brotherhood between the running backs, quarterbacks, receivers and tight ends. Just knowing that brotherhood is there, we’re all excited.”
Running back by committee?
So far it has largely been a running back by committee approach from the Nittany Lions’ backfield, but there's a good chance the distribution of carries could look a little different after Ricky Slade’s recent performances.
Slade has only gained 21 yards in the two games so far, and fumbled on the opening drive of the second half against Buffalo, just as the offense was gaining momentum.
Running backs Noah Cain, Journey Brown and Devyn Ford all have more rushing yards than the sophomore starting back, and all have as many if not more touchdowns.
“We’d love to have someone either jump out and be dominant, or we’d love for the whole group to play at a really high level.” Franklin said.
After two games, Penn State’s most consistent runner has actually been its quarterback, Sean Clifford.
But as for the running backs, the carries have been distributed evenly, with Noah Cain and Journey Brown having a slight edge.
“It’s how they played the previous week, it’s how they practice all week,” Franklin said about the process of selecting a rotation. “There’s a lot of different things that factor in there and then as the game goes on it's a feel.”