Blue White Illustrated

March 2024

Penn State Sports Magazine

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6 M A R C H 2 0 2 4 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M H ope springs eternal this time of year in college football. But follow- ing Penn State's flameout down the stretch of an overall successful 2023 campaign, there are plenty of questions in Happy Valley with spring football ap- proaching. Chief among them, once again, is fix- ing the offense. The Nittany Lions were among the top-scoring attacks in the country last year. The caveat, of course, was that all that went out the window when the Lions faced the top teams on the schedule. Moves were made as a result, and the latest dose of optimism comes in the form of former Kansas of- fensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki. The numbers were impressive for Ko- telnicki and the Jayhawks. Those num- bers were all the more impressive when taking into account that Lawrence has been an absolute afterthought on the college football landscape in the last few … decades or so. A lot of that changed when Kotelnicki showed up from Buf- falo as Lance Leipold's right-hand man. Of course, all of this comes on a curve. Kansas plays in the Big 12, a conference not known for its defensive prowess. The Jayhawks actually scored fewer points per game than the Nittany Lions last year. But that's a gray area statistic. With the exception of a trip to Texas that resulted in a blowout loss to the Longhorns without starting quar- terback Jalon Daniels, Kotelnicki kept pace with the top competition. That included an upset of then-No. 8 Okla- homa at home. Kansas finished 17th nationally in Bill Connelly's SP+ offensive efficiency numbers. More useful than points per game, the measure is described as a "tempo- and opponent-adjusted mea- sure of college football efficiency." Penn State's offense was 30th nationally in the same metric. So, what does all this mean? Kotel- nicki should be a guy who can make some fixes in the Penn State offense. It doesn't mean it will happen. There were high hopes for Mike Yurcich, and before him Kirk Ciarrocca. A fresh slate can help. Kotelnicki is known for cre- ativity, explosiveness and getting more from less. He was able to do that at Kansas, where the talent level and re- cruiting base forces you to be creative. The challenge has already started. It's much different than the endeavor that Tom Allen has inherited on de- fense. Penn State should once again be one of the better units in the country on that side of the ball. New special teams coordinator Justin Lustig also has some experience to work with. But in today's college football, it's the points that matter. Even in the new era of the expanded playoff, the standard goes hand in hand with the margin for error. The Nittany Lions' schedule no longer features the yearly battering ram of Ohio State and Michigan in the Big Ten East, but there are new challenges. October trips to USC and Wisconsin lead up to a home back-to-back with the Buckeyes and Washington (although the Huskies, the national runners-up in 2023, have been gutted this offseason). The first step, though, is spring ball. Kotelnicki isn't a quarterback special- ist, so getting the new offense off on the right foot under junior quarterback Drew Allar means a coordinated effort to build on the positives of 2023. While it may not seem that way in hindsight, there were some building blocks to take into the offseason. For James Franklin, the chance to combine ball protection with explosive plays is what led him to Kotelnicki in the first place. Those who want the Nittany Lions to restart from scratch may be disappointed with how similar the framework of the new offense will look compared to its previous iteration. "I think what Andy was doing at Kansas was very similar," Franklin said in February. "The difference, as we're all very aware of, and trust me I'm aware of, is what his strength is — ex- plosive plays. They were sixth in the country in explosive plays but doing it in similar formations and personnel groups that we were in. "We were No. 1 in the country in turnover ratio, which is a team stat, but our offense did a great job of protecting the football. What you're obviously try- ing to do is marry those two things: the protection of the football on offense, the explosive plays from Kansas, the ability to use different personnel groups that I think is a strength of ours, combined with what Andy did at Kansas." To oversimplify things, Penn State has an idea that it should be pretty good on defense and special teams once again in 2024. Kotelnicki was brought in — with a reported $1.6 mil- lion salary in his first year — to remove the question mark on his side of the ball. That won't be a quick fix, and 15 practices in March are just a jumping- off point for what this team can ac- complish in the fall. ■ Under Kotelnicki's guidance, Kansas finished 17th in the nation last season in SP+ offensive efficiency, 13 spots higher than Penn State. PHOTO BY GREG PICKEL Andy Kotelnicki's Creativity Holds Key To PSU's Season JUDGMENT CALL O P I N I O N S E A N F I T Z S E A N . F I T Z @ O N 3 . C O M

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