Looking up and down the Big 10, you could easily point to Penn State as the team with the most question marks and uncertainty heading into the 2014 college football season, especially on offense. We’re talking about a unit that loses three starters from the offensive line and standout wide receiver Allen Robinson, who departed after his junior year for the NFL.
Add those losses together, and you have a quarterback in Christian Hackenberg who is going to have a lot of pressure on him to come through mostly on his own.
It’s usually a pretty big hit when you wave goodbye to three offensive linemen because that means inexperienced pieces are going to be coming in and trying to fill the gaps. It’s simpler to do with one or two guys because you can adjust accordingly with the others. But when most of your offensive line is going to be stepping up for the first time, you are probably going to run into problems.
The first problem will be found in the run game, which has actually been solid for Penn State the last few years. Redshirt junior Zach Zwinak has nearly 2,000 yards through the last two seasons and 18 touchdowns. Turnovers became a bit of an issue for him last season, which led to junior Bill Belton getting more carries, and he also impressed with 803 yards.
So the options are there at running back. Now let’s move out to the wide receivers, because this all eventually ties together. Robinson and fellow receiver Brandon Felder combined for nearly 77 percent of all passes caught by receivers a year ago, and both have departed. Behind them, you won’t find very much experience at all as no one is a proven asset yet. One guy who could very well emerge as a reliable target and playmaker is redshirt freshman Geno Lewis. He looks like the best option at this point, but as I said, he’s unproven on the field.
If we dig a little deeper, we find redshirt junior Matt Zanellato, who possesses good size at 6-foot-3. There’s also De’Andre Thompkins, who is probably the fastest of the receivers. DaeSean Hamilton, who is still nursing a wrist injury, is likely the best overall athlete when completely healthy, but his health has to come around first.
A lack of reliability at receiver would be catastrophic for Penn State’s offense. It would be too easy for teams to load the box, take advantage of a weaker offensive line and shut down the run game.
And now you see how this all comes together. If one piece of the puzzle goes missing or doesn’t quite fit, the entire picture becomes distorted, and you’re left looking at a good (I’m not ready to call him great) quarterback in Hackenberg, who would be almost completely handcuffed because of the lack of complementary players surrounding him.