Taking a deeper dive into what went wrong for Penn State Football this season

Head coach James Franklin of Penn State Football (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Head coach James Franklin of Penn State Football (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /
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Following a 5-0 start to the 2021 season and finding themselves ranked fourth in the country, Penn State Football found their season quickly falling apart, and for a variety of reasons.

Many fans are quick to point a finger directly at the man in charge, James Franklin, and that is certainly more than deserved, when it comes to the Penn State Football’s struggles.

However, it is never as cut and dry as just a single person who is at fault (bare with us though, we will get to him at the end).

There are many variables that are the difference between the Nittany Lions currently being 9-1 or maybe even 10-0, and where they currently sit at 6-4.

Let’s take a detailed look at some of the glaring problems that Penn State Football has faced this season, and how they might relate to the man in charge.

Penn State Football’s offensive line issues

It was apparent from the get-go that the offensive line would struggle this season.

Some (myself included), thought maybe things would improve, even if just slightly, as the season progressed and the unit began to gel.

That could not be further from the truth.

The first 30 minutes of the season were disastrous upfront, as there was no success running the ball, and quarterback Sean Clifford had very little time to throw the ball against Wisconsin.

Now, with just two regular-season games remaining, things have not gotten any better.

The Nittany Lions are tied for last in the Big Ten with 27 sacks allowed. A whopping 16 of those 27 sacks have come in one of Penn State’s four losses.

The run blocking has been even worse, as the Lions have averaged just 3.1 yards per carry this season, which is tied for 12th in the conference.

So, what exactly is the problem up front?

While it is not in my lane to try to break down specifics of technique and scheme because I have never played or coached football at the Division 1 level (like many of you), I can tell you that it is more than likely a combination of many things, though some more than others.

What would make the most sense is pointing fingers at the offensive line coach, Phil Trautwein.

And while he certainly deserves some blame, because after all, it is his unit, he has had a lot of proven success prior to arriving at Penn State.

In 2019 while he was the offensive line coach at Boston College, Trautwein had four of five starting offensive linemen earn all-conference honors in the ACC. These were no 5-star or high 4-star prospects either, they needed to be coached up.

Two of those four linemen were 3-star recruits coming out of high school, while another was a 2-star recruit. The last one? Well he was a transfer from Davidson and was unrated coming out of high school.

NOTE: I didn’t even know Davidson had a football team, and if not for Steph Curry, most people probably would not even know the school existed.

The prior season, Trautwein had an offensive lineman (Chris Lindstrom) drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft, and by the way, Lindstrom was also a 3-star recruit coming out of high school.

Pretty impressive resume right?

Trautwein is absolutely a very good offensive line coach, so where is the disconnect?

Ultimately, Trautwein can preach certain things until he is blue in the face, but if the players cannot go out and execute on Saturdays, it doesn’t really matter.

Some people point to the blocking schemes, which in my opinion would fall more onto the offensive coordinator designing the offense/plays, as well as the head coach who should oversee those decisions.

Similar to Trautwein, the coordinators could have a solid scheme in place, but if the players don’t communicate and recognize defenses pre and post-snap, as well as execute their blocks, it also doesn’t matter.

A few fans have even said the offensive line is undersized, and while there may be some truth to that, one of the best offensive linemen in the nation, Tyler Linderbaum, is only 290 pounds.

One would think that if they lack size, they would still have great speed and not get beat off the edge as much. But, as we saw against Michigan that isn’t the case.

Truth is, while some of these may be bigger reasons than others, it really is a combination of everybody involved, both offensive linemen themselves, and any coach on the staff that has anything to do with the offensive line or offensive schemes.