Penn State now is 10 games into the 2017 season and the questions still persist about its offensive line, a unit that keeps struggling trying to prevent would-be tacklers from getting to Saquon Barkley before he has taken two steps.
James Franklin fielded at least five questions about the offensive line Tuesday at his weekly teleconference. Among the qualities he’d like to see from the unit is to be more physical, to have more of a nasty streak, and find one guy who’s willing to step out and say, “Watch me.”
All three would be good ideas as the Nittany Lions (8-2, 5-2 Big Ten) attempt to finish their regular season strong starting Saturday in a senior day duel against Nebraska at Beaver Stadium.
The last three games have not been pretty. The Lions have dropped to 84th in FBS in rushing offense at 146.0 yards per game. Barkley, who has rushed for just 142 yards the last three weeks and has lost ground in his bid for the Heisman Trophy, is tied for 33rd in the nation in rushing yards with 899, and his 5.42-yard average per carry is 64th.
Franklin said the line’s youth — only one senior, with one sophomore and one redshirt freshman among the current starting five — in addition to its experience and mentality are factors into why the unit is not where it needs to be.
“We’ve just got to get them playing consistently and playing with that kind of confidence and that kind of mentality,” he said. “I think what happens is when it’s like anything else. When they start getting praised and patted on the back and having success for finishing blocks, it becomes contagious, we need more of that.
“Like any other position or like any other unit or team, you need one guy to really start saying, ‘I’m the guy, watch me, I’m going to show you how to do it’ and then it become contagious to the group. I look forward to seeing who that’s going to be and when it’s going to be.”
As for the mentality, Franklin said he would “love to see a little bit more of that nastiness” in his linemen.
“I actually met with some of the young linemen the other day about it, that they were brought in and told that,” he said. “They understood that, and they need to bring that, bring that in practice and bring that in the games.”
The most experienced lineman is senior guard Brendan Mahon, who has “the ability to be one of the most physical offensive linemen in the country. He’s an older guy, he’s a senior, and I think when he does it, the rest will follow,” Franklin said. “I’m probably going to have another conversation with him this week on the impact that he can have and the legacy that he can leave here.”
Nittany notes: Franklin said that linebacker Manny Bowen, the team’s third-leading linebacker, will be sidelined for a second straight week because of a violation of team rules. … Senior tight end Mike Gesicki was named as one of eight semifinalists for the John Mackey Award given to the nation’s best tight end. Gesicki leads the Nittany Lions with 42 catches, good for 419 yards and five touchdowns.