Penn State’s football season kicks off next Saturday against Idaho.
They’ve lost Trace McSorley, Miles Sanders, and a handful of other offensive starters from last year’s team.
Here’s a detailed look at the Nittany Lions’ offense:
Redshirt sophomore Sean Clifford, the only quarterback with game experience, won the starting job in a competition with redshirt freshman Will Levis that lasted most of training camp. The 6-foot-2, 216-pound Clifford was believed to have had the upper hand all along, and head coach James Franklin admitted he was getting the majority of the reps even before a starter had been named.
Clifford is a confident and competitive type who, in the off-season between his freshman and redshirt freshman season, slammed a bench in the weight room and broke his hand. Coaches say he has done a better job controlling his emotions. He has a strong arm and is very good on the deep ball. He also has displayed his leadership, entering a meeting room after Tommy Stevens transferred and promising there would be no dropoff at the position.
He will need to run the ball in the Penn State offense, and in the off-season he worked hard in the weight room to prepare himself.
The 6-3, 229-pound Levis – Franklin has said he looks like former Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman – possesses a strong arm and good accuracy. He has worked diligently to correct issues with his footwork when in the pocket.
With Penn State considered a heavy favorite in its first two games, against Idaho and Buffalo, look for Levis to see game action.
Two true freshmen quarterbacks, Michael Johnson Jr., and Ta’Quan Roberson, are expected to redshirt. But since they can play as many as four games each, look for Franklin to perhaps get them an occasional snap in a lopsided game.
Sophomore Ricky Slade is the most experienced of the four primary candidates to line up in the backfield, having rushed for 257 yards and six touchdowns in nine games playing behind Miles Sanders last year. But he said he doesn’t mind sharing carries with the others, and it seems likely that the Nittany Lions will have a running back by committee approach.
Redshirt sophomore Journey Brown has had a good camp and packs plenty of speed on a 5-foot-11, 206-pound frame. True freshmen Noah Cain and Devyn Ford also are competing for playing time, with Cain having shown well in the Blue-White Game, and Ford learning the offense quickly after reporting in the summer.
The featured athlete at this position is redshirt sophomore KJ Hamler, who led the team last year in catches (42), receiving yards (754), average per reception (18.0), kickoff returns (26.1 yards) and all-purpose yards (109.0). Look for Hamler to get a lot of touches on offense, and see his share of special teams duty on kickoff and punt returns.
The Nittany Lions lost three veterans at the position including Juwan Johnson, who transferred to Oregon. Sophomore Jahan Dotson received more reps last year after Johnson sat out with an injury and impressed, earning first downs on each of his first five career catches.
Redshirt sophomore Mac Hippenhammer saw limited time in 12 games last year but that should change in 2019. Another third-year sophomore, Cam Sullivan-Brown, and redshirt freshmen Justin Shorter and Daniel George also will be in the rotation. Shorter, a five-star recruit out of Monmouth Junction, N.J., who had some nagging injuries last season, played in the maximum four games without losing his redshirt.
Sophomore Pat Freiermuth established himself at a crowded position and started the last nine games as a true freshman, snaring 26 passes for 368 yards and eight touchdowns. Senior Nick Bowers caught six passes last year in limited action but Franklin indicated he will be utilized more this season. Zack Kuntz was expected to compete with fellow freshman Freiermuth in 2018 but played just one game and kept his redshirt.
Ryan Bates (Archbishop Wood) and Connor McGovern both left school early and went to the NFL, leaving holes at tackle and guard, respectively. The three holdovers – fifth-year senior guard Steven Gonzalez and a pair of redshirt juniors, center Michal Menet and tackle Will Fries – have combined for 85 games played and 61 starts. Gonzalez’ 29 career starts are the most of any active Nittany Lion.