Penn State: The Elite, the Meh, and the Ugly

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THE AWFUL We appear to be in the midst of the P.J. Fleck era’s darkest hour.

The 45 points scored by the Penn State Nittany Lions against the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Saturday night were the highest that a Fleck team had given up since Maryland scored the same amount of points in 2020. The Gophers allowed 49 points to Michigan in their season opener the week before they lost to the Terrapins in overtime, 45-44.

Although the 2020 season was undoubtedly a low moment, I could live with the explanation for it. They lost a whole offseason because to the COVID pandemic. Every program in the nation was in the same predicament, but Minnesota lost crucial time to develop the inexperienced guys who would fill the seven starting defense positions that had been vacant the previous season. The Gophers also had a new offensive coordinator, who we can now conclude with certainty was a poor choice because he didn’t have an offseason to hone his new offense.

The “Encore Four”—sixth-year quarterback Tanner Morgan, sixth-year running back Mohamed Ibrahim, sixth-year wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell, and sixth-year center John Michael Schmitz—will lead Minnesota’s offense this season. The Gophers’ dynamic 2019 offense was designed by offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, who was brought back by the Gophers.

The “Encore Four” had been hammered and bruised for eight weeks of the season.

Due to Autman-season-ending Bell’s knee injury, the wide receiver group is now completely empty, raising concerns about the program’s wide receiver recruiting and development efforts. Ibrahim missed the Purdue game due to an ankle injury, and the Gophers’ rushing total was the lowest in a single game since 2015. The starting signal caller suffered a concussion against Illinois and missed the Penn State game, capping a disastrous month for Morgan and the Gophers’ passing game overall. Additionally, Schmitz has served as the anchor for an offensive line that consistently fails to run or pass block.

On the defensive side of the ball, Joe Rossi, who was a finalist for the post at Notre Dame before head coach Marcus Freeman chose to hire Al Golden, was kept on by Fleck. Before faltering against Purdue, Rossi’s squad displayed top play through the first four games of the season. Since then, the defense has become worse each week.

The Gophers gave up nine completions of at least 15 yards and seven rushes of at least 10 yards to the Nittany Lions on Saturday night, who amassed 479 total yards of offense and 45 points. Late in the third quarter, the game’s most embarrassing play occurred. In place of Justin Walley, cornerback Ryan Stapp lined up on the incorrect side of the field, leaving wide receiver Mitchell Tinsley of Penn State open and undefended for a 20-yard touchdown throw.

Minnesota has now dropped three games in a row, scoring 13.6 points per game on offense and 30.3 points per game against them.
What then is the justification?

You cannot blame our inexperience and youth. Eight of the offense’s starters and nine of the defense’s starters against Penn State were seniors. You cannot place the responsibility for the offensive or defensive problems on either Robb Smith or Mike Sanford Jr. The obvious response is that either talent, coaching, or a mix of the two are responsible. And in Year 6, that poses a serious issue.

I mean, imagine Year 7 coming up; both Ibrahim and Morgan will have graduated. Most likely, Autman-Bell won’t be back. Schmitz is among the three offensive line interior starters who will no longer be on the team. Brevyn Instead of using up his final year of eligibility, Spann-Ford might decide to try his luck in the NFL. Is there any reason to think the offensive will be better just based on the personnel?

But Year 6 still has at least five games left. Although I must admit that I don’t have much confidence in the author right now, the conclusion to this season is yet to be written. It has been difficult to watch this squad lose three straight games and be humiliated by Penn State on national television. As things stand, I believe we may need to have a tough talk about Fleck at the end of the season. I believe I’ll keep my oar in the boat till then and wait for the tide to turn.

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