Penn State coach James Franklin has spent a considerable amount of time (see above) this preseason talking about his offensive line playing with a collective “chip on its shoulder” because of the beating it has taken from the media following last season’s lackluster performance.
Asked about that Wednesday, redshirt sophomore right tackle Andrew Nelson said the chip-on-the-shoulder business is true.
“Absolutely,” he replied. “But one of the important things is that we’re just using this stuff as motivation. Do we completely agree with a lot of the things that the media has to say and do with think the media has everything figured out as far as what they wrote about us last year? Absolutely not.
“But obviously that fuels our fire,” he added. “And we understand that we could have played better last year. We understand that we’re going to play better this year. That’s just the bottom line.”
Thanks to those of us in the press, you know all of the numbers by now. Nittany Lion QB Christian Hackenberg was sacked a school-record and Big Ten-worst 44 times. In the Big Ten, Penn State ranked last in scoring offense, last in rushing offense and next to last in total offense.
Nelson is not trying to sugarcoat the performance, and even said, “We know what it’s like to be the be the lowest of the low.”
Then he followed that with, “But that’s why we’re gonna be successful.”
His point? Penn State had four new starters up front last year — including Nelson, who was a redshirt freshman at the time. “It was kind of a trial-by-fire thing.”
This season, four starters and two other players with starting experience return on the O-line. And Nelson insists they have learned from their mistakes.
“The biggest thing would be execution of the offense because of communication,” he said. “Every single kid on this offensive line can play and is a heck of a player. Last year, a lot of our struggles stemmed from execution because of poor communication. When we got hats on hats, we were able to really get a lot of good things going.”
“At times, when it’s your first year, and things are going really fast, you may not have time to completely understand what you see and get the proper call made. Or you might not understand exactly what the proper call is because things are moving so fast. When you get experience under your belt, you get used to game speed, things like that, then communication becomes easier.”
Asked for an example of poor execution last season, Nelson went into detail.
“Specifically, if you’re talking the run game, you have to understand what front the defense is giving you, you have to understand what hats you’re working to, as far as double teams, if they’re bringing blitz,” he said. “What calls you’ve got to make if they’re bringing blitz, and recognizing those things.
“At times, when it’s your first year, and things are going really fast, you may not have time to completely understand what you see and get the proper call made,” he added. “Or you might not understand exactly what the proper call is because things are moving so fast. When you get experience under your belt, you get used to game speed, things like that, then communication becomes easier.”
We’ll see about that soon enough. Penn State opens the season Saturday at Temple, and the Owls return most of their starters from a defense that finished fourth in the nation in points allowed. Nelson called it a “great” defense.
Of course, PSU beat Temple 30-13 at Beaver Stadium last November. And Nelson warned that the Owls will be seeing a much better Penn State offensive attack this weekend.
“Speaking from an offensive line standpoint, it’s a night-and-day difference,” he said. “I’m so excited about what our offensive line is gonna be able to do this year. More importantly, I’m excited about what our offense and our team is gonna be able to do. We’re 100 percent better.”