2018 Penn State Snap Counts Recap: Offense

By Dan Smith on January 30, 2019 at 9:00 am
Nov 24, 2018; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Trace McSorley (9) reacts after scoring his second touchdown of the quarter during the first quarter against the Maryland Terrapins at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 Penn State season is in the books, with Penn State finishing a 9-4 campaign that was a bit of a disappointment. While most of our coverage is now focused on 2019 and beyond, there is still value in looking back at the 2018 season to see what we can learn.


Class %Snaps
Seniors 14.3%
Juniors 41.3%
Sophomores 14.6%
Freshmen (True) 21.5% (9.2%)

Penn State had 925 total offensive snaps across 13 games (including the bowl game). The season opener against App State had the most snaps, with 82 total on offense. The season low was 48 at Michigan.

The bulk of the offensive snaps were taken by junior players, followed by freshmen, then sophomores, then seniors.


No. Quarterback Class Total (%) Season High
9 Trace McSorley RS Senior 858 (92.8%) 82 (App State)
2 Tommy Stevens RS Junior 66 (7.1%) 17 (Michigan)
14 Sean Clifford RS Freshman 30 (3.2%) 13 (Kent State)

McSorley was the starter for the whole season and was never benched, meaning that Stevens and Clifford only appeared at quarterback at the end of blowouts or in injury relief.

The latter was a more significant factor than it was in 2017, as both McSorley and Stevens battled injuries throughout the season. Still, McSorley played the vast majority of the time. Stevens and Clifford will be relatively inexperienced entering into the battle for the starting job in 2019.

The numbers go slightly over 100 percent because of the two-quarterback sets with McSorley and Stevens. They were used more sparingly in 2018, both due to injuries to Stevens, as well as to their ineffectiveness when they did employ them.

Running Back

No. Running Back Class Total (%) Season High
24 Miles Sanders Junior 691 (74.7%) 79 (Ohio State)
4 Ricky Slade Freshman 127 (13.7%) 29 (Kentucky)
8 Mark Allen RS Senior 53 (5.7%) 20 (Pitt)
32 Journey Brown RS Freshman 37 (4.0%) 13 (Maryland)
20 Johnathan Thomas RS Senior 7 (0.8%) 4 (Kent State)

Sanders stepped in and took the bulk of the carries in a similar way to Saquon Barkley in 2017. The plan was for Allen and Slade to split backup duties, but Allen's injury after the Kent State game derailed that plan. Making matters worse, fumbling issues led the coaching staff to bench Slade for a four game stretch in the middle of the season.

This left the backup running back duties to combination of redshirt freshman Brown and backup quarterback Stevens, in his role as "Lion." It was ... less than effective. Eventually, Slade made his way back into the rotation, culminating with quite a bit of usage in the bowl game, much like Sanders saw in Barkley's final game against Washington last year in the Fiesta Bowl.

Wide Receiver

No. Wide Receiver Class Total (%) Season High
1 K.J. Hamler RS Freshman 714 (77.2%) 64 (Kentucky)
3 DeAndre Thompkins RS Senior 458 (49.5%) 60 (Wisconsin)
84 Juwan Johnson RS Junior 455 (49.2%) 80 (Ohio State)
10 Brandon Polk RS Junior 324 (35.0%) 51 (Indiana)
5 Jahan Dotson Freshman 218 (23.6%) 50 (Rutgers)
12 Mac Hippenhammer RS Freshman 216 (23.4%) 28 (Michigan)
81 Cam Sullivan-Brown RS Freshman 151 (16.3%) 34 (Indiana)
6 Justin Shorter Freshman 76 (8.2%) 35 (Kentucky)
86 Daniel George Freshman 37 (4.0%) 18 (Maryland)
85 Isaac Lutz RS Junior 9 (0.9%) 8 (Illinois)
29 John Reid RS Junior 5 (0.5%) 2 (Rutgers)
82 Tyler Shoop RS Junior 1 (0.1%) 1 (Maryland)

The wide receiver position's usage throughout the season was a fascinating development, though not for good reasons. Aside from the emergence of Hamler as a legitimate game breaker, there was very little in the way of positive developments for this group. Franklin certainly noticed as well, firing wide receiver coach David Corley and hired Gerad Parker in his place. Combined with attrition occurring this offseason, there will be a new look here in 2019.

In 2018, the season began with a starting trio of Hamler in the slot, with Johnson and and a combination of Thompkins on Polk at the outside positions. Those three struggled throughout the season. Johnson continued to see regular time until an injury in the Indiana game first limited him vs. Iowa, and then knocked him out of the next three games. Polk's disastrous streak of dropped passes mounted until he was benched following the Michigan game. He never saw the field again. Thompkins missed the Michigan game, but eventually returned to the regular rotation after Polk's benching and Johnson's injury.

The hope had been that true freshman Shorter would compete with those players for time on the outside, but an injury killed his offseason development, and he ended up retaining a redshirt, only starting to see regular time at the very end of the season. Dotson's redshirt, meanwhile, was intended to be kept on, but the situation with the three upper classmen forced them to move him into the starting lineup mid-season. He would play in eight games.

Redshirt freshmen Hippenhammer and Sullivan-Brown had very limited impact, with each having one impressive game (Hippenhammer against Michigan State, and Sullivan-Brown against Indiana) and little else. True freshman George kept his redshirt, though made a splash in his first career game with a 95-yard touchdown catch from Clifford.

Tight End

No. Tight End Class Total (%) Season High
87 Pat Freiermuth Freshman 609 (65.8%) 70 (Rutgers)
83 Nick Bowers RS Junior 175 (18.9%) 32 (Indiana)
18 Jonathan Holland RS Junior 139 (15.0%) 54 (App State)
80 Danny Dalton RS Sophomore 42 (4.5%) 22 (App State)
82 Zack Kuntz Freshman 9 (1.0%) 7 (Kent State)
41 Joe Arcangelo RS Junior 3 (0.3%) 3 (Maryland)

This position was an unknown coming into the season, and was frequently cited as the biggest area of concern on the offensive side of the ball. The result was an inverse of the wide receiver position, as the tight end duo of Freiermuth and Bowers was a pleasant surprise, providing stability and locked the position down for the foreseeable future.

The season started with Holland as the starter, with Dalton and Freiermuth splitting backup duties. But an injury to Dalton knocked him out after the second game of the season. The Illinois game was the final turning point: an early fumble by Holland, and Bowers' first availability of the season returning from injury cemented Freiermuth as the starter with Bowers as his backup.

The team limited its use of two tight end sets for most of the season despite the struggles of the wide receivers, as the coaching staff preferred keeping Friermuth and Bowers fresh by rotating somewhat frequently. With the highly rated Kuntz retaining his freshman eligibility heading into 2019, and heading into a big offseason in the weight room, that trio could make significant waves in the Big Ten.

Offensive Line

No. Offensive Lineman Class Total (%) Season High
74 Steven Gonzalez RS Junior 888 (96.0%) 82 (App State)
52 Ryan Bates RS Junior 878 (94.9%) 82 (App State)
66 Connor McGovern Junior 857 (92.6%) 82 (App State)
62 Michal Menet RS Sophomore 838 (90.6%) 82 (App State)
71 Will Fries RS Sophomore 751 (81.2%) 80 (Ohio State)
77 Chasz Wright RS Senior 187 (20.2%) 48 (Iowa)
73 Mike Miranda RS Freshman 122 (13.2%) 66 (Maryland)
69 C.J. Thorpe RS Freshman 43 (4.6%) 32 (Kent State)
64 Zach Simpson RS Junior 21 (2.3%) 9 (Illinois)
53 Rasheed Walker Freshman 18 (1.9%) 9 (Maryland)
75 Des Holmes RS Freshman 16 (1.7%) 9 (Illinois)
79 Charlie Shuman RS Senior 3 (0.3%) 3 (Maryland)
70 Juice Scruggs Freshman 3 (0.3%) 3 (Maryland)

Having five solid starters is the goal for any coaching staff at any level of football, as chemistry and communication is an extremely important part of offensive line play. That is part of why the departures of Ryan Bates and Connor McGovern will be disappointing, as they played together with the returning Steven Gonzalez for most of the last three seasons.

Michal Menet played in 12 of 13 games as the starting center, making good on his promise as a high four-star recruit in the 2016 class. Fries seemed to dip in play early in the season, and briefly lost his starting job to Wright, but eventually got it back and moved to left tackle to finish the season.

At guard, Thorpe was originally the first man off the bench. But injuries at defensive tackle led the staff to move him to that position as a rotational player. Miranda was the next man up, and played less than it appeared they intended to use Thorpe. He did play the bulk of the regular season finale due to the injury to Menet (McGovern slid to center). Thorpe and Miranda will likely battle for McGovern's right guard spot if the former returns to the offensive side of the ball.

The answer at tackle is even less clear. Bates and Wright are gone, and the next men up are Holmes and Walker, who have barely played. They will compete with JUCO recruit Anthony Whigan for the right tackle spot opposite Fries.

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