2022 Penn St. Nittany Lions Preview

by Matt Fargo

Penn St. Nittany Lions

2021-22 Season Record 7-6 (4-5 Big Ten East) - 7-6-0 ATS - 3-10-0 O/U

Returning Starters

Offense - 7
Defense - 4

Overview

Penn St. got off to a 5-0 start last season and after opening the season as preseason No. 19 in the AP Poll, it jumped up to No. 4 and then the wheels fell off. The Nittany Lions went 2-6 the rest of the way, with the wins coming against Maryland and Rutgers, including closing with a dud against Arkansas in the Outback Bowl. To their credit, four of those losses came by a combined 12 points and head coach James Franklin signed a massive contract extension in late November showing he is fully vested in turning things around after going 14-13 over their last 27 games going back to the end of the 2019 season. It is never an easy fix, especially in this conference with so many dangerous teams this upcoming season but Penn St. brings in the No. 6 recruiting class in the country so with just 11 starters back, young players will have to step up and it might take a year to get the groove back.

Offense

Penn St. typically revolves its offense around a strong rushing attack but last season that was non-existent as it was No. 118 in rushing offense, averaging only 106.4 ypg on 3.2 ypc and that will be the focal point to improve this season. Keyvone Lee was the leading rusher with just 495 yards but he averaged 4.8 ypc so he can bust out for a big season if the offensive line comes together and that is a big if. Only two starters are back and they will be mixing in some transfers and young players but there is depth yet it might take time to come together in finding the right rotation. Quarterback Sean Clifford is back after throwing for 3,107 yards with 21 touchdowns and eight interceptions and those solid numbers should get better as he knows this system in and out. Filling the void of receiver Jahan Dotson will be Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert-Smith who combined for 1,341 yards.

Defense

The defense held its own which kept the Nittany Lions in the games they lost as they finished No. 35 in total defense and No. 7 in scoring defense, yielding just 16.8 ppg but there is plenty of work to be done to replicate that. The Nittany Lions were solid against both the run and the pass and the main area of concern will be up front. Their sack leader is gone and the pass rush was not great to begin with as they had only 27 sacks and their 2.1 sack per game average was tied for No. 74 in the country. They are going to rely on a pair of prized freshmen to get their feet wet early and help disrupt the backfield. The linebacking corps loses their top two tacklers that combined for 148 stops but Curtis Jacobs steps in after 61 tackles last season with depth around him. The secondary is the strength with potential All Big Ten starters at corner and safety with Joey Porter and Ji'Ayir Brown respectively.

2022 Season Outlook

After going 42-11 from 2016-2019, it will be interesting how Penn St. handles a little bit of adversity even though it is projected to have a very good season and will likely be ranked in the preseason top 25. This is partly due to reputation and a great bunch of recruits that will see a lot of time. The schedule has its good and bad but it is in their favor for the most part as the Nittany Lions have seven home games and no back-to-back road games. Two of the first three games are on the road at Purdue and Auburn, two very early tests. They get Central Michigan and Northwestern at home and then travel to Michigan. The remainder of the Big Ten slate is encouraging with the three toughest games against Minnesota, Ohio St. and Michigan St. all at home. The O/U win total is set at 8.5 and that does seen aggressive as even though the schedule in on their side, it is littered with dangerous games. 

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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