Penn State football’s offense is poised to take a massive step forward in 2023

Depth chart breakdown 2023
Where does Penn State football stand heading into the 2023 season? Read our stories analyzing each position.
We’ve broken down every position and now it’s time to take a look at the overall outlook of Penn State football on each side of the ball. We’ll start with the offense, where the Nittany Lions have room for growth and the talent to take major strides in the 2023 season.
It’s safe to say this will be the more intriguing facet of the offense this year. There’s been a good amount of upheaval at the skill positions — most notably, of course, at quarterback. This is offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich’s third year in charge of the unit but it feels like the first opportunity he’ll have to really open things up in the passing game. That’s not to say he was limited in his play calling with Sean Clifford leading the offense, but those groups didn’t look like what you’d expect from Yurcich based on his past. He’s leaned heavily on the passing game, using downfield passes as a key piece of the puzzle in forming the gameplan. Now he has a quarterback with elite arm strength that can make every throw in the book to do that.
Penn State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich talks to players during a spring practice on Tuesday, March 21, 2023.
Penn State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich talks to players during a spring practice on Tuesday, March 21, 2023. Abby Drey
That, of course, is sophomore Drew Allar, who is the likely starter and one of the most talented quarterbacks in the country. He’s much more of a pocket passer than Clifford and should be able to stretch the field a little bit better. The question will be more about the players catching passes from him and his lack of experience. The Nittany Lions did a good job of getting his feet wet last year by playing him when they could, but being a starter is a different animal. That being said, those pass catches are much more likely to be determinative than any previous playing time related issues.
The team’s top two wide receivers — Parker Washington and Mitch Tinsley — and top tight end Brenton Strange are all gone from last year’s team, taking 129 receptions, 1,550 yards and 12 touchdowns with them. Back-filling those receiving spots will be KeAndre Lambert-Smith and Harrison Wallace III, with Theo Johnson stepping up as the top tight end. This will be a big year for Lambert-Smith, who had issues with drops in the past but will have to work through them if he’s the No. 1 option in an offense that could look to pass more. Wallace has the upside to be the top guy in the offense and Johnson should emerge as the team’s top red zone target because of his size and athletic ability. The wildcard here is Dante Cephas, who joins the program from Kent State. If he can build a rapport with Allar, he might be the best pass-catcher on the team and that would elevate this facet of the game from potentially good to great.
Pass protection should be a strength with Olumuyiwa Fashanu anchoring the group as the best left tackle in college football. Whether Caedan Wallace or Drew Shelton wins the job at right tackle, there shouldn’t be major issues on that side, while the group of Sal Wormley, Hunter Nourzad and Landon Tengwall should solidify the interior.
Penn State tight end Theo Johnson makes a catch and cuts around Maryland defenders during the game on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022.
Penn State tight end Theo Johnson makes a catch and cuts around Maryland defenders during the game on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. Abby Drey
The running game carried the offense last year and it will be interesting to see how much more it opens up if the passing game is more of a threat. Theoretically, more deep shots should keep the safeties back and the linebackers more hesitant to step forward if they believe a receiver could come open behind them in the middle of the field. Allar won’t contribute as much as a runner as Clifford did, but that shouldn’t change how the offense looks. Run-pass options will still force linebackers to hesitate as Allar can throw the ball quickly to a receiver or hand it off to the running back on those play calls.
The running backs are what they are — arguably the best duo in the country. Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen are heading into sophomore years with high expectations after they dominated as freshmen. Singleton is the more explosive big play threat while Allen is more power and contact-balance focused. They’re both good enough at what the other excels at to flip roles and still produce at a high level, but they’re elite at what they do well. There are few positions on the team where there are almost zero questions, but running back is one of them.
Blocking shouldn’t be a problem either because all five projected starters are at least above average in that regard. The three interior linemen are all good enough athletes to get to the second level and plow through linebackers to create even more space for the running backs. Fashanu could stand to play with more aggression as a run blocker, but that’s nit-picking at a group that will have the athleticism and power to have their way with most opposing defensive lines. The real question is at tight end, where Johnson lags behind what Strange became last year as a blocker. That being said, he’s got the size and athleticism to be a major asset as a blocker after proving he has the want-to over the last season.
It’s difficult to be concerned about a running game with a very good line and elite running back talent. This could be one of the best rushing attacks in the sport next year.
The defense carried Penn State last year but this is the year for the offense to catch up and make this a more well-rounded team. It was closer to a top-50 offense than a top-10 one, ranking No. 31 in ESPN’s Bill Connelly’s SP+, a tempo- and opponent-adjusted measure of college football efficiency.
That should change as the group evolves in the passing game. Despite being more unknown at receiver than in 2022, there’s enough upside with that group to believe the production of the lost receivers to be replaced. That should alleviate some of the pressure on the running game and open everything up — making this a less predictable unit and one that can hit more explosive plays in both the running and passing game because of it.
There’s a legitimate chance Penn State finishes with a top-15 offense in SP+ and if that’s the case, the playoff aspirations this team has will very much be on the table.

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