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Penn State

Penn State unleashes more productive offense

| Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016, 9:51 p.m.
Penn State receiver DaeSean Hamilton (5) drops a potential long fourth-quarter completion as Pitt defensive back Terrish Webb (2) on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, at Heinz Field.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Penn State receiver DaeSean Hamilton (5) drops a potential long fourth-quarter completion as Pitt defensive back Terrish Webb (2) on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, at Heinz Field.

UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State scored more than 30 points in each of its first two games this season, something the Nittany Lions hadn't done since 2008.

The Lions finished the 2008 regular season 11-1 and earned a berth in the Rose Bowl, which they lost to Southern Cal.

That year, the Lions averaged 38.9 points per game — the last time they averaged more than 30 points per game in a season.

The Lions' strong offensive start this season doesn't mean they'll finish the year as strong as the 2008 Lions did. That year, the Lions scored at least 45 points in each of their first four games.

Still, comparing these teams shows it has been awhile since the Lions were offensive-minded, something that could continue to be the trend for them moving forward.

Running back Saquon Barkley has become one of the most talented backs in the Big Ten and maybe the NCAA, and he's only a sophomore. He scored five touchdowns last week against Pitt, despite a Panthers' run defense that ranks No. 11 in the FBS.

Quarterback Trace McSorley has started only two games in his collegiate career, and a lot can change over the course of a season. But after passing for 332 yards against the Panthers and leading two consecutive 30-point scoring efforts, McSorley's proved he's capable of succeeding.

“We put up a good amount of points on a real tough Pitt defense,” McSorley said. “(If) we get all aspects of our offense firing on the same cylinder and get everything going, this offense can be pretty special and be very explosive.”

This more explosive offense McSorley was talking about could be essential for the Lions if they are going to compete in Big Ten play.

The Lions' 36 points per game is almost double what they scored through their first two games in 2015, but there are still seven Big Ten teams that have scored more points per game.

Coach James Franklin pointed out that college football is shifting from a more defensive league to one of offensive prowess.

“I remember a few years back if you had 400 yards on offense, that was considered a good day,” Franklin said. “If you scored 30 points, that was considered a big-time scoring day. Those days are gone.”

And because more teams are scoring more points and gaining more yards, Franklin said it's more important for his defense to improve, specifically in stopping the run.

The Lions recorded seven sacks in their first game against Kent State, so he said they've shown flashes of being a good passing defense. But, the Lions rank No. 116 out of 127 FBS teams in rushing defense, something Franklin said he hopes will improve as the young defensive line matures.

“What we need to do a better job of is being more consistent in the run game and force people into throwing situations,” Franklin said. “We want to play great defense and great offense.”

Matt Martell is a freelance writer.

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