Entering the upcoming season, the Penn State Nittany Lions will look to continue their offensive success from 2012.
Due to some changes in personnel, most notably at quarterback, plus the identification of certain areas of weakness from last season, there are changes on offense that need to be made for 2013.
Not many people expected the Penn State Nittany Lions to be very successful last season, especially on offense. Key starters left just weeks before the start of the season, and the coaching staff was left scrambling to find replacements.
The Nittany Lions finished with a record of 8-4 and were fourth in the Big Ten in total offense.
Aside from the quarterback position and two new starters on the offensive line, the offense will have the luxury of a good deal of experience. While production may drop a bit, the 2013 squad's output may not be that far off from last year's numbers.
There are even new additions such as Eugene Lewis, Malik Golden and Akeel Lynch who should help provide even more offense this season.
Because of last season's success and the number of returning starters, there only needs to be a few changes on offense for the Nittany Lions to once again be successful.
After being named the starting running back in the offseason, Bill Belton failed to produce much in 2012. He finished the year with just 258 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
An early-season injury caused him to miss three games. He was never really the same after returning and struggled to get anything going.
That opened the door for Zach Zwinak to take the starting role.
Entering this season, it's hard to envision Belton returning to the starting job at running back. However, he is a talented athlete whose speed and ability should not be wasted. When given the opportunity, he has already shown that he can be a valuable receiver.
Belton caught a six-yard touchdown pass in the first game of last season.
The coaching staff needs to recognize the weapon that they have in Belton and get him the ball anyway possible. Making him a slot receiver in 2013 is a change that should be made. From the slot, he could be very dangerous—especially on screens and short passes—because of his ability to run and make plays.
While he's already shown he may not be best suited for the running back position, making Belton a wide receiver, specifically a slot receiver, makes sense. It will be a big help to the new Penn State quarterback by providing another playmaker in the passing game.
The Penn State offense really clicked in 2012, led by quarterback Matt McGloin. If there was a problem, it was that the Nittany Lions stumbled in the red zone quite often. Whether it be missed field goals or a failure to convert on third or fourth down, Penn State was not very good when down close to the goal line.
The Nittany Lions made 56 trips to the red zone last season, scoring on 44 of them. The 78.6 red-zone efficiency ranked Penn State 10th in the Big Ten.
That number needs to improve in 2013.
The emergence of kicker Sam Ficken at the end of last season should help matters. Ficken struggled to be consistent on field goals in the first half of the season, converting just two of his first eight attempts. However, he improved mightily as the year went on, making 12 of his final 13 kicks.
While touchdowns are always better, field goals are an important part of the game. Coming up empty on a red-zone trip is a momentum-killer. If Penn State has more confidence in its kicker this season, it should translate into more red-zone points
An improved running game should also help with the red-zone struggles.
If the 2013 offense wants to improve on last year, converting on more red-zone chances is a must.
Penn State finished 2012 ranked ninth in the Big Ten in rushing offense. The Nittany Lions averaged just 144.9 yards a game. That number is a bit skewed because of how poorly they ran the ball to start the year, as things improved by the end of the season.
In the final four games, Penn State averaged 162.5 rushing yards per game behind a much-improved offensive line.
2013 brings back an offensive line that only loses two starters and includes running back Zach Zwinak, who will look to build on his 1,000-yard season.
Last season, the offense was led by senor quarterback Matt McGloin, who had a spectacular year. The Penn State passing attack was so effective that the run game was not relied upon heavily. The Nittany Lions had the fourth-fewest rushing attempts in the Big Ten.
This year, the offense will have a new, inexperienced signal-caller. The running game is going to have to be used more.
If Penn State is able to continue the success on the ground from the end of last season and establish the run game early on, it will take pressure off the young quarterback.