The Big Uglies

The Big Uglies

After diving head-first into the 2016 position previews with a look at all of the changes within the coaching staff, the time has come to address the elephant in the room. The one position that took the biggest hit when the sanctions came down four years ago. Of course, I’m talking about the offensive line, a.k.a. the “Big Uglies” as they’re commonly referred to around the football water cooler. And boy, has that name fit us to a T over the past two seasons. It’s been downright ugly with a capital U. Since James Franklin’s arrival in 2014 we’ve seen O-Linemen block each other and we’ve been begrudging witnesses to well over 100 sacks to poor old Hackenberg. There’s no need to sugarcoat it, it’s been dreadful with little to no improvement. A year ago, as I made my attempt at this preview, I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t think there was any way the 2015 O-Line could be any worse than the one that preceded it. I proudly professed that the only road they could choose to travel was the road up. So, what did that O-Line do for its season opening act? Give up ten sacks to Temple. Ten! To Temple! It was brutal to watch.

The woes in the trenches can be blamed on the lack of scholarships due to the sanctions. They can partially be blamed on the not so nimble feet of the aforementioned quarterback. Perhaps, those woes could be blamed squarely on the shoulders of former O-Line coach Herb Hand who bolted south for Auburn. Whatever the reason, the Penn State offensive line, one that usually ranks as one of the Big Ten’s best, has been dreadfully woeful and needs to improve in order for the Nittany Lions to move forward. It has to get better, plain and simple. It’s a job that former Minnesota offensive co-coordinator Matt Limegrover has been tasked to undertake. Unlike his predecessor, he has just about a full cupboard to work with after three years worth of intense recruiting on the part of James Franklin. Penn State ironically enters 2016 with one of the most experienced lines in the Big Ten. Waiting in the wings is a stable full of freshmen and sophomores ready to prove their worth in the trenches.


Junior Andrew Nelson remains Mr.Dependable and is slated to make the switch to the coveted left tackle position after the failed experiment with JUCO transfer Paris Palmer in 2015. To his credit, Palmer remains in the mix and has reportedly bulked up and added muscle mass over the offseason. Noah Beh, Chance Sorrell, and Brendan Brosnan appear to be battling it out with Palmer for right tackle and backup duty. Sterling Jenkins, the former top ranked player in PA, remains a work in progress but has been a pleasant surprise considering how raw he was when he arrived on campus.

When training camp begins in August the real battles will be on the inside of the line. Brian Gaia, Derek Dowrey, and Wendy Laurent represent the lone seniors of the group. After two seasons at guard, Gaia emerged from spring ball with a firm grip on the all-important position of center with Laurent in reserve. Brendan Mahon has a ton of experience and could be used at either guard position or make the move to tackle if need be. Ryan Bates appears to have found himself a starting spot after redshirting in 2015 and will be pushed by fellow redshirt freshman Steven Gonzalez. Two names we should all be aware of and ones that could ultimately end up being the X-factors are Michael Menet and Connor McGovern, both highly regarded coming out of high school. McGovern arrived on campus as an early enrollee in January and has already worked his way into the rotation at both guard and tackle, which he played during the Blue-White game in April. Menet, one of the nation’s highest ranked O-Linemen, has already bulked up to 295lbs. and has the athleticism to match. Expect to see him early and often at either guard or tackle as he acclimates himself to the college environment.

Considering all the woes that hamstrung the offensive line over the past two seasons, Limegrover has his work cut out for him. The biggest thing that he has going for him, that Hand did not, is depth. He has a full plate of bodies to work with to get Penn State back on track in the trenches. They may be young, but they are all chomping at the bit to come in and compete for meaningful playing time. A year ago I made the dreadful mistake of claiming there was nowhere to go but up, only to watch them fall flat against Temple. I refuse to make that mistake again, even though I was not alone in my prediction. What I will tell you is that after two years worth of famine, these Big Uglies are hungry. When Lions are hungry, they feast. Sooner or later, that feast must include the likes of Wolverines, Buckeyes, and Spartans, all teams that have pushed them around up front since James Franklin came to town. The future of Nittany Lion success depends upon these Big Uglies. With a new offensive scheme, a more mobile quarterback (whoever the starter becomes) and that hunger that has lingered around for far too long, I expect to at least see the beginnings of a return to what we were all used to seeing from a Penn State offensive line.