Penn State O-line Returns To (Poor) Form

The Nittany Lions' front five were overmatched in a 27-10 loss to Temple. Harsh criticism followed, and not only from fans.

PHILADELPHIA — Angelo Mangiro, lucky guy, has emerged as the spokesman for Penn State’s leaky offensive line the last season-plus, but what more is there to say at this point?

“Credit Temple,” the Nittany Lions’ center said for the umpteenth time after Saturday’s 27-10 loss to the Owls. “They played well. We’ve got to play better.”

His interrogator wanted more. Of course he wanted more, after the Lions gave up 10 sacks and PSU lost to TU for the first time since 1941.

Wasn’t the loss, ya know, jarring?

“Credit Temple again,” he said as he sat in a corner of the cramped interview room in Lincoln Financial Field. “They played well. We’ve got to play better.”

The line was supposed to be better, after allowing a school-record 44 sacks last season, a season in which the Lions finished among the nation’s worst team in most major offensive categories.

It looked the same.

Never mind that four starters have returned. Never mind that they had installed Paris Palmer, the top-junior college offensive tackle, on Christian Hackenberg’s blind side. After piling up 126 yards and jumping to a 10-0 lead after a quarter, they managed 54 yards and no points the rest of the day.

There was also some piling on. As Temple built on its lead and the outcome became obvious, somebody asked departed tackle Donovan Smith on Twitter why he left Penn State.

“This exact reason,” said Smith, a second-round pick of Tampa Bay this past spring.

Nor was the criticism limited to the line.

“Joepa beat the teams he was supposed to beat,” former cornerback Stephon Morris tweeted, referring to the late Joe Paterno.

Added former offensive tackle Adam Gress, “Everybody’s impatience is justified, but know that Hack is the real deal. Point the finger elsewhere.”

Then Gress did just that in another tweet, saying offensive coordinator John Donovan “sucks.”

Head coach James Franklin was asked point-blank after the game about the perception that he is a great recruiter and motivator, but lacking as an offensive strategist: What would he say to fans about that?

“I would be disappointed as well,” he said. “When you play the way we did today, I would be disappointed. People can question. It’s our job to silence the questions. It’s our job to get out on the field and produce and play well. That’s our responsibility. There’s going to be criticism. I get that, but I am as committed and determined today as I’ve been since the day I got the job, and it’s our job to silence the critics.”

But he too seemed to lack definitive answers.

A lineup change up front?

“Our best five are playing,” he said. “The guys that are backing (the starters) up are redshirt freshmen who we don’t feel at the time are ready.”

And what of halftime adjustments? Did he make any of those?

“We came in at halftime and discussed what we needed to do,” he said, “but again it goes back to what we’ve talked about in the past: It comes down to protection and being able to run the ball. We’re not able to do that right now. … There’s not a whole lot of plays in the playbook when you can’t consistently protect or run the ball. We need to get those things fixed from a technique and a fundamental perspective.”

Compounding the Lions’ problems Saturday were the loss of middle linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White for the season to a left-knee injury in the first half, and the loss of outside linebacker Brandon Bell for much of the second half with what appeared to be an ankle injury. Wartman-White’s backup, Gary Wooten, was also KO’d with an unspecified injury.

Among other things, that forced PSU to burn the redshirts of freshmen linebackers Manny Bowen and Jake Cooper. Temple took full advantage, and (again) the Lions had no answers.

As for the Owls’ defense, Franklin noted that they played a lot of press coverage on the outside, daring PSU’s receivers to beat them off the line of scrimmage or their backs to run the ball against a loaded box inside. Penn State could do neither.

But, he added, “There was one or two times where they rushed three and dropped eight. You shouldn’t have pressure on your quarterback when you’re rushing three, when you have six- or seven-man protections.”

Yet it happened. Hackenberg, 11-for-25 for 103 yards in the game, was under siege. And a third-quarter interception by TU defensive end Sharif Finch set up the go-ahead touchdown.

Same stuff, different season.

“What am I doing now to keep my composure?” Mangiro said, answering a question with a question. “Just making sure I’m saying the right thing. I know I have a bunch of teammates on the bus I want to get back to, handle the situation with them. I know tomorrow we’re going to get after it in practice, with the type of characters we have in our locker room, get on to next week.”

Next week is Buffalo, a perennial patsy, in the home opener. Things might very well look better, but what of the long haul?

“It’s not a sprint,” Franklin said. “It’s a marathon.”

Looks all uphill now.

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