Last updated: October 04. 2013 12:51AM - 1034 Views
By - dlevarse@timesleader.com

Penn State guard John Urschel (64) blocks Central Florida linebacker Terrance Plummer (41) during the first quarter Sept. 14, in State College.
Penn State guard John Urschel (64) blocks Central Florida linebacker Terrance Plummer (41) during the first quarter Sept. 14, in State College.
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Mac McWhorter, perpetually cordial in his Southern twang, bristled slightly only once in a 40-minute Q-and-A.

Penn State’s offensive line coach offered a quick rebuttal when asked how his unit had handled some early struggles this season.

“I don’t know that struggle is the right word,” McWhorter said. “It’s growth and it’s work in progress. … And we have grown.

“I think the line has grown and gotten better and the offense has grown and gotten better. We’re certainly a part of that and hopefully the progress continues.”

The on-field results through four games have been mixed. Lions coach Bill O’Brien said before the recent bye week that while he’s happy with some individual performances on the line, he’d like to see more consistency from the group as a whole.

“We can always get technically better,” junior guard Miles Dieffenbach said. “That’s something we always try to improve on. Get our technique down, get our footwork down.

“Coach Mac is always instilling toughness in us, so we just want to get tough as an offensive line. Get really physical.”

Measuring the line’s effectiveness through stats is tricky. The run game has shown marked improvement since the opening game, when Syracuse stacked the box and forced the Lions to throw.

The Lions rank in the middle of the pack nationally on the ground, averaging 197 yards per game, good for 50th in the country.

Less encouraging is a 98th-place ranking in sacks allowed at 2.5 per game. But that number is skewed a bit as true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg learns on the job, holding on to the ball too long at times.

“There’s always a lot of room for improvement,” Dieffenbach said. “We can be more sound in our keys. No missed assignments. Be more physical up front. Stay on blocks longer.”

The other side of the coin is chemistry. Penn State’s most successful lines in recent history — the 2005 and 2008 Big Ten championship squads — had plenty of experience playing together.

That isn’t an issue for the 2013 group that has three returning starters — Dieffenbach, Donovan Smith and John Urschel — that play regularly with three fifth-year seniors in Ty Howle, Adam Gress and Garry Gilliam, with those last two splitting reps at right tackle.

“In 39 years coaching, I’ve never had a good offensive line that isn’t cohesive on and off the field,” McWhorter said. “It’s critical. … You have to work together on every snap and communication is huge on every snap. Some of it is totally non-verbal, just feeling each other, trusting each other.

“I’ve never had a real good line that didn’t jell good, that didn’t like each other and that didn’t hang around together.”

‘Moxie’ rising to the top

Another week, another step closer to the field for Matt McGloin.

McGloin, who already beat out fourth-round draft pick Tyler Wilson for a spot on the Oakland Raiders roster, has now moved ahead of veteran Matt Flynn on the depth chart.

The West Scranton grad will be active as the Raiders’ No. 2 quarterback on Sunday against San Diego, backing up former college rival Terrelle Pryor.

Pryor was knocked out of the Raiders loss to Denver two weeks ago with concussion concerns and sat out the last game against Washington. In that game, McGloin backed up Flynn, whose subpar play earned him a demotion.

“I like what (McGloin) brings to the table as far as his competitiveness. He’s got some moxie to him,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen told ESPN, busting out the “moxie” moniker that caught on with Penn State fans. “He just understands how to play the game.

“And I don’t think it’s too big for him. I think he’ll come in, if he’s called upon to run the offense, and I think he’ll do a good job. He’s smart, he throws an accurate ball, he’s got good arm strength, he good in decision-making. So I like what this kid has to work with.”

The Raiders game will be broadcast nationally at 11:30 p.m. Sunday on NFL Network. The unusual start time is because the Oakland Athletics, who share O.co Coliseum with the Raiders, are hosting the MLB playoffs there over the weekend.

With Pryor’s recent health concerns, McGloin could be one play away from leading an NFL team as an undrafted rookie.

“That’s Matt,” O’Brien said Thursday on his weekly radio show. “Look where he is this week. What a fantastic story.”

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