Penn State’s offense has improved since its anemic showing last season, especially on the line.
One year after the Nittany Lions finished last in the Big Ten in sacks allowed and next-to-last in rushing, they’re protecting quarterback Sean Clifford and opening holes for running backs Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen.
At least one guy up front, however, is not satisfied.
“I don’t think we’ve proved anything yet,” guard Sal Wormley said Tuesday. “I feel like the season just started. We have plenty more football and plenty more opportunities to show what we’re really capable of.”
The next opportunity will come Saturday at noon (TV-FOX, WEEU-AM/830) when 10th-ranked Penn State (2-0 Big Ten, 5-0) will meet No. 5 Michigan (3-0, 6-0) at Michigan Stadium.
The Lions will face their greatest challenge so far this season.
The Wolverines lead the conference and are tied for fifth nationally with 22 sacks after losing All-American edge rushers Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo from a season ago. They’re also seventh nationally in rushing defense, limiting opponents to 81.7 yards per game.
“Michigan provides a lot of threats,” Clifford said. “They’re extremely talented up front. They look every part of one of the top defensive lines in the country. They play extremely hard. They all have high motors. They fit runs well. They’re really good in the pass.
“I have a lot of confidence in our offensive line, how they’ve handled themselves throughout the year and their development.”
Wormley and his linemates have allowed just seven sacks, tied for the third-fewest in the Big Ten, and far fewer than the 34 they allowed last season.
“If we keep him (Clifford) confident and poised in that pocket,” Wormley said, “that will just open things up for him to make reads down the field and do his job.”
Last November at Beaver Stadium, Hutchinson and Ojabo combined for five of the seven sacks that the Wolverines had in a 21-17 win. They held the Lions to 109 yards on 42 rushes.
“We’re better equipped (to handle Michigan’s pass rush) from a personnel standpoint,” Penn State coach James Franklin said, “and also better equipped in terms of not getting away from the run and being one-dimensional, sticking with the plan.”
Penn State has had more balance on offense than it had last year with the emergence of Singleton and Allen, a pair of talented freshmen. Singleton, the former Gov. Mifflin star, has run for 463 yards and five touchdowns and has averaged 7.3 yards a carry. Allen has 303 yards and three scores.
The Lions are rushing for 192.6 yards a game, far more than the 107.8 they averaged in 2021. That has helped them become more effective in the red zone, where they have scored 16 TDs in 20 trips. Their red zone struggles were evident last year against Michigan.
“Being able to run the ball just gives (offensive coordinator) Mike Yurcich more options,” Wormley said. “As long as the OC has confidence in the run game, that just opens up opportunities for our tight ends and for our wide receivers to do their thing.”
Blocking the Wolverines will not be easy. They’re fifth nationally in points (11.8) and total yards (247.0) allowed. Defensive end Mike Morris leads them with five sacks, and linebacker Junior Colson has a team-high 44 tackles.
“Their whole line is just big and physical,” Wormley said. “They love to rush the QB. They’re really not just lazy D-tackles who just try to stop the run and let the ends do the work. I feel like the whole line has a goal, and that’s to get to the QB no matter the calls. I have a lot of respect for their D-tackles and their D-ends.”
Source: Berkshire mont