When things are going well, typically it’s the skill positions that get recognized. The quarterback, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends.
On the other hand, when things aren’t going well the finger is pointed at the offensive line for their inability to run or pass block. Much of the success that Penn State had during the 2022 season was due to outstanding offensive line play. Now headed into the 2023 season, Penn State Football has one of their best returning offensive lines in recent memory. It’s crazy how fast this turn around can take place. Just think back to the 2021 season where Penn State struggled to run the ball and protect Sean Clifford.
Following the 2021 season, Penn State football fans were not happy with the product on the field, many questioning if Phil Trautwein was the right man for the job as the offensive line coach. But after the turnaround this group made in 2022, you can’t help but be excited about the direction the offensive line is headed. In 2021 QB Sean Clifford was sacked 29 times and the team only rushed for 1,402 yards. But in 2022, Clifford was sacked only 14 times, and the team total for rushing yards was 2,354 rushing yards per ESPN.
Now, in 2023 Trautwein not only has turned the offensive line around, but he has set the room up for success for the future with his recruiting. Most recently landing commits from 2025 OL Jaelyn Matthews and 2023 OT Chimdy Onoh.
Here are my three reasons why I think Penn State Football’s offensive line will dominate in 2023:
#1 Olu Returned
After the 2022 Outback Bowl, the Penn State football community was pleased with what they saw from Left Tackle Olu Fashanu. But I don’t think many of us imagined that he would be this good so soon. Last year, he allowed 0 sacks in 299 pass block snaps per PFF. There were multiple NFL mock drafts that had Olu as a first round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. But, the 20 year-old who graduates this May has opted to return to State College to continue to evolve his craft. Fashanu has the opportunity to be the first offensive lineman to be selected in the 2024 NFL Draft. With a new starting QB in Drew Allar having his blind side be protected by a top prospect like Fashanu is a recipe for success in 2023.
#2: Continuity Among the Group
Roster turnover is a challenge that many teams deal with from a year-to–year standpoint. It’s difficult to assess how good or bad your team will be with incoming transfers or first year starters. The returning OL had an opportunity to gel together last season, Olu Fashanu (8 starts in 2022), Landon Tengwall (5 starts in 2022), Hunter Nourzad (7 starts in 2022), Sal Wormley (12 starts in 2022), Caedan Wallace (7 starts in 2022), and Drew Shelton (4 starts in 2022) all players got significant playing time, many making their first career start at the FBS level. Now that this chemistry has been built, it’s time to watch this group take off in 2023.
#3 The Depth
Due to the physical nature of this position, having any offensive lineman play in every game in a single season is an incredibly difficult challenge. Because of this, Penn State has been able to develop depth at multiple positions. Hunter Nourzad was able to fill in for the injured Landon Tengwall last season, and Drew Shelton played for both Caedan Wallace and Olu Fashanu at different times last season. Vega Ioane also received more playing time towards the end of 2022, so he should be the next man up for an interior line position in 2023. The team also has highly talented incoming freshmen with 4-star Alex Birchmeier, 4-star J’ven Williams, 4-star Anthony Donkoh, and 4-star Chimdy Onoh (ratings per 247sports). Ideally, Penn State wouldn’t need to turn to the reserves this upcoming season; however, if they need to, they certainly won’t lack in talent. With either Drew Shelton or Caedan Wallace, Vega Ioane, Jimmy Christ, and with the talented the 2023 recruiting class waiting for their chance to prove themselves.
I believe that Penn State’s offensive line could be the best in the Big Ten and even the entire country when the curtain closes on the 2023 college football season.