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Penn State Postseason Grades: Offensive Line

We are now a week past the end of Penn State’s 2013 season. With no bowl game for the Nittany Lions, I won’t mention the harshness of the NCAA sanctions, it’s time to begin a reflection of the season that was. Victory Bell Rings will start its season recap by looking at the Nittany Lions position by position. Everyone these days loves to assign grades to everything, so naturally, we’ll do the same thing.

This series starts with taking a look at how the offensive line fared in 2013.

Though often overlooked, the argument can be made that the offensive line is the backbone of a team. While the skill positions get all the glamour, it’s the big guys up front that do a lot of the important work. Without a solid offensive line, the running game struggles and a quarterback is often running for his life.

The anchor of the line last season, center Matt Stankiewitch, graduated and had to be replaced. However, heading into this season, the Nittany Lions were fortunate to have a lot of experience returning. Three of the five starters from 2012 returned in the form of John Urschel, Donovan Smith and Miles Dieffenbach. Seniors Eric Shrive, Adam Gress and former tight end Garry Gilliam, who switched to tackle, added more veteran knowledge and depth to the unit.

As far as evaluating the line, we need to look at both run blocking and pass protection. The Nittany Lions had a decent running attack this season, especially at the end of the year, behind Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton. However, Penn State struggled to get much of a run game going early on and finished ranked eighth in the conference in rushing offense, averaging 174 yards a game.

With a true freshman quarterback, having a solid pass protection in front of him is key. The Nittany Lions struggled at times in pass protection. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg saw a lot of pressure at times and had to scramble around in the pocket to make plays.

The offensive line didn’t really end the year on the best of notes, as they were whistled for seven false start penalties in the season-finale  against the Wisconsin Badgers.

For the most part, this offensive line was a veteran unit.  Therefore, I was expecting a very solid season from this group. However, when looking at the line as a whole and the performance over the entire season, there has to be some disappointment. I give the offensive line a B- as the overall grade.

Follow VBR Lead Editor Barry Leonard Jr. on Twitter

 

 

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