PENN STATE OFFENSIVE LINE VS. KENT STATE FRONT SEVEN
Flashback: September 5, 2015. (I know, I'm sorry.)
After a "herrrgh bleerrgh blahhhhh" 2014, the Penn State offensive line entered a new season wanting redemption.
It's nice to want things.
Temple, sporting a veteran defense, made their way into the Nittany Lion backfield to sack Christian Hackenberg 10 times. Outside of a long Akeel Lynch TD run and a couple of Brandon Polk jet sweeps, the Penn State rushing attack was lifeless. The Owls proved that "It can't get any worse, right?" was a pretty stupid question to ask as 2015 became a second straight year or trials and tribulations in the trenches for Penn State.
So, as we move into 2016.....
It can't get any worse, right?
This season, familiar faces have settled into new positions on the line. Brendan Mahon moves to left tackle and Brian Gaia slides to center. New face in Ryan Bates has cemented himself at left guard in an effort to inject new life into a unit that has woefully underperformed for two years. Those three join returning starters RG Derek Dowrey and RT Andrew Nelson under the tutelage of new position coach Matt Limegrover. Their first test won't be an easy one as the front seven of Kent State is experienced and proven. The Golden Flashes return eight of ten players that rotated along the defensive line and six of eight who saw time at linebacker in 2015. Those units combined for the eighth-best adjusted sack rate in the nation last year led by DE Terence Waugh's 8.5 sacks. While you won't find many players that were huge recruiting grabs within that front seven, they can get to the quarterback and seem poised to continue their solid play this season. Luckily for the Nittany Lions, their run stopping ability was not as strong which should prove beneficial for Saquon Barkley and Andre Robinson (and possibly Miles Sanders).
While the Flashes may not be the stiffest of competition, they should administer a formidable test and initial benchmark for this reportedly improved Penn State offensive line to start the year. While we can all drink the Kool-Aid based on offseason talk, this will be a chance for the behemoths up front to let their play do the talking and provide the Penn State backfield, coaching staff and fanbase a bit of breathing room going forward this year.