The challenge has been laid down for Penn State’s offensive line.
After an encouraging performance coming out of the bye week against Michigan’s heralded defensive line, the Nittany Lions struggled down the stretch in last week’s 39-38 loss at Ohio State.
Lions coach James Franklin said after the game that the difference came up front as his quarterback, Trace McSorley, “was running for his life” while Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett was “able to stand in the pocket very comfortable.”
Barrett shredded Penn State for three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, not missing a pass in the frame. McSorley had a shot to lead the Lions to a winning field goal at the end, but pressure from the Buckeyes defense led to three incompletions and a sack to end the game.
The turning point may have come in the third quarter when Saquon Barkley rolled up on Ryan Bates from behind while being tackled, leading to an apparent ankle injury for the steady left tackle.
Bates tried to return on the following drive but wasn’t able to finish the game.
Franklin and the Lions have not given any update on Bates’ status for Saturday’s game at Michigan State, though Franklin told reporters in State College after Wednesday’s practice that it won’t be a game-time decision.
“I think we’re pretty set with what we’re going to do,” Franklin said. “What we’re probably still working on is getting reps in terms of contingency plans. And if we get more injuries, where do we go from there and those types of things.”
It at least sounds like Penn State is preparing to play without Bates, in which case the Lions will likely go with the unit that finished the Ohio State game — redshirt freshman Will Fries moving from right tackle to left and junior Chasz Wright drawing back in on the right side, where he started at the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017.
“Chasz Wright has been a starter off and on and has done some really good things over the last year,” Franklin said. “We’re going to need him to play well this week.”
The upheaval came at an especially tough time as the tackles were going up against arguably the deepest group of defensive ends in the country, a Buckeyes unit headlined by future NFLers Nick Bosa, Sam Hubbard and Tyquan Lewis.
“It’s just (working on) technique, being consistent with every play,” Fries said after Saturday’s loss. “Not relaxing for a second. Just being consistent.”
Before taking over at right tackle because of injuries to Wright and Andrew Nelson, Fries had taken plenty of practice reps at left tackle as Bates’ backup, “so it’s not a huge adjustment,” he said.
Senior Brendan Mahon has played both tackle spots earlier in his career, but Franklin said during Penn State’s bye week that he would prefer to keep him at right guard as to not create another switch for the unit.
That means the Lions’ interior should be the same on Saturday with Steven Gonzalez and Mahon flanking Connor McGovern.
“I think (offensive line coach Matt) Limegrover is working hard with those guys,” Franklin said. “I think they’re getting better. You have Connor McGovern, who is a true sophomore, starting at the center position. I see him getting better every single week. I see Gonzalez, a redshirt sophomore, is playing pretty well. There’s times where I know he and we would like to be a little bit more consistent with both those guys.”
Michigan State will bring the third straight stubborn defense that the Lions have faced on Saturday.
And while the Spartans don’t have the same talent and depth as Ohio State, they are well-coached and will try and follow the same blueprint as the Buckeyes.
“I would say that Ohio State, you could make the argument they have one of the best defensive lines in college football,” Franklin said. “So everything is magnified. Again, we’re going to stick to our formula. We’re going to stick to our process. We’re going to continue to get better.”
McGloin, O’Brien reunited
The circumstances that created the situation are terrible for the Houston Texans. But Matt McGloin will play for Bill O’Brien once again.
The former Penn State quarterback and head coach are back together as McGloin is set to sign with the Texans, according to multiple reports. The Houston Chronicle first reported the deal.
O’Brien and Texans general manager Rick Smith received more bad news on Thursday when blossoming star rookie Deshaun Watson went down with a torn ACL during practice.
That left Houston with an immediate need at quarterback. McGloin, who set Penn State records as O’Brien’s quarterback at Penn State as a senior in 2012, was a logical choice given his knowledge of O’Brien’s offense and terminology. McGloin is set to back up Tom Savage, who will take over the starting job.
The former West Scranton standout had spent the first four seasons of his career with the Oakland Raiders before briefly latching on with the Philadelphia Eagles in the offseason. He was cut at the end of training camp.