A Way-Too-Early Look at the 2020 Penn State Offense

By Matthew Filipovits on January 27, 2020 at 9:25 am
Dec 28, 2019; Arlington, Texas, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) looks to pass in the second quarter against the Memphis Tigers at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
© Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

With a new offensive coordinator, offensive line coach, and new wide receivers coach, we've seen a massive overhaul of Penn State’s offensive staff. The Nittany Lions head into 2020 with eight returning starters and expectations to take a big step forward.

Let’s take a very early look at the 2020 offense

Quarterback: Sean Clifford

Clifford had a solid first season as a starter, completing 59% of his passes for 2,654 yards, 23 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. He also added 402 yards and five additional touchdowns on the ground. He has a lot of room to improve, most notably he'll have to get better at spreading the ball out more among his receivers. Will Levis gained some important experience, and showed a lot of upside as a runner in limited action.

Backups: Will Levis, Ta'Quan Roberson, Michael Johnson Jr., Micah Bowens

Running Back: Journey Brown

Brown, Noah Cain, Ricky Slade, and Devyn Ford were all listed as co-starters for the entirety of last season, but as the season went on it became clear Brown was the lead dog. He led the Nittany Lions with 890 yards and 12 touchdowns on just 129 carries. His blazing speed was a known commodity, but his vision and shiftiness quickly allowed him to break out.

Noah Cain should provide a great compliment, with his physical style of running giving the Nittany Lions a great option late in games. Ford and Slade should also see an increased role as they enter their third and second years in the program, respectively. Holmes and Lee could factor in, but it's hard to imagine there will be enough carries to go around.

Backups: Noah Cain, Devyn Ford, Ricky Slade, Caziah Holmes, Keyvone Lee

Wide Receivers: Jahan Dotson, Daniel George, Cam Sullivan-Brown

Dotson and George should go into the season with starting spots, but with Justin Shorter officially out of the picture, a third spot has opened up. From the outside looking in it's Cam Sullivan-Brown's job to lose, despite playing in just four games last year due to injury. Redshirt freshman John Dunmore should push him, with JUCO transfer Norval Black and Mac Hippenhammer also pushing for larger roles. 

It seems safe to say at least one true freshman will play, with early enrollees KeAndre Lambert and Jaden Dottin the most likely candidates. Don't sleep on Texan Parker Washington either. This unit now has its fourth position coach in as many years, and after two years of struggles, there should be plenty of playing times up for grabs,

Backups: John Dunmore, Norval Black, Mac Hippenhammer, TJ Jones, KeAndre Lambert, Parker Washington, Jaden Dottin, Malick Meiga

Tight end: Pat Freiermuth

Freiermuth has a legitimate claim as the best tight end in the country. He does everything well, but he shined as a pass-catcher last season, ranking second on the team with 43 catches for 507 yards, and seven touchdowns. Tight ends haven't had all that big of a role in Ciarrocca's offense, but the longtime player caller has never had a weapon like Baby Gronk. 

Nick Bowers partnered with Freiermuth to form a solid one-two punch at the position. With the former gone to graduation, either one of Zack Kuntz, Brenton Strange, or Theo Johnson could assume that role. Kuntz has been the program the longest, but his strength is clearly catching the football. Strange can do both pretty well, while the true freshman Johnson also projects as more of a pass-catcher, at least at this early stage.

Backups: Zack Kuntz, Brenton Strange, Theo Johnson, TJ Warren

Offensive Line: Rasheed Walker (LT), Mike Miranda (LG), Michal Menet (C), CJ Thorpe (RG), Will Fries (RT)

It feels like we've been saying this for years but this should be the season where Penn State's line truly takes it to the next level. All five of the above players have starting experience, with Menet and Fries being multi-year starers at their positions. Losing Steven Gonzalez is a big blow, but platooning Miranda and Thorpe last year helped both gain valuable experience. New position coach Phil Trautwein has an impressive track record and this should be the most talented unit he's ever had.

Des Holmes played a good amount last year, but outside of him, the second team features a lot of question marks. Whigan was a top-five JUCO prospect a season ago and the staff was able to get away with redshirting him. Caedan Wallace was a green light at the beginning of the season, but the staff quickly realized there weren't enough snaps to go around and chose to maintain his redshirt. Juice Scruggs was a highly touted prospect, but a car accident last spring kept him sidelined for a while. He could give the Nittany Lions some added depth along the interior if he is fully healthy.

Backups: Des Holmes, Anthony Whigan, Caedan Wallace, Bryce Effner, Juice Scruggs, Saleem Wormley, Golden Achumba, Jimmy Christ, Nick Dawkins, Olu Fashanu, Ibrahim Traore

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