No offense: Penn State unit takes criticism
Offensive coordinator John Donovan speaks out.
STATE COLLEGE - At any given home game, Beaver Stadium houses about 100,000 offensive coordinators.
Rare cheers and frequent jeers set the tone for Penn State's offense this year. It was a middling group with chronic issues, faulty execution and, what's most talked about, less-than-stellar play-calling.
But regardless of fans' feelings, there's only one offensive coordinator at Penn State. His name is John Donovan, and for the first time since preseason media days, he spoke to the media about the season.
"It's like a buddy of mine in coaching says, 'Everyone can do your job better than you can,' " Donovan said Saturday.
Flooded with criticism this season, Donovan took a beating on social media; if the coach's job security was determined by Twitter, he would have been unemployed by the third week of the season.
Undoubtedly, Donovan deserved flak; on the season, the Nittany Lions totaled the fewest yards in the conference, ranked 115th nationally in points per game and compiled just 103.6 rushing yards per game - worse than all but eight teams in the country.
And realistically, Penn State's record at the end of the regular season could have been better than 6-6. There were two occasions - at home against Maryland and on the road at Illinois - when the offense could have, and by all accounts probably should have, finished strong in the fourth quarter and earned a victory. That didn't happen.
"We had the opportunity to close two games out and we didn't do it," Donovan said. "That's as frustrating as anything."
But he wasn't the one out there blocking, running and throwing.
Donovan had to gameplan each week around a leaky-at-best offensive line and inexperienced wideouts not yet adept at consistently creating separation.
That, admittedly for Donovan, was difficult.
"It's crazy, every time you go somewhere new or do something new, sometimes you don't fully understand the job you're in until you have a year - full year - cycle of doing it," said Donovan, who was offensive coordinator at Vanderbilt under James Franklin and followed him to Happy Valley.
Donovan was frustrated throughout the year, and he wasn't alone. No, it wasn't just the fans; Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg was noticeably irked on the sidelines on multiple occasions.
Hackenberg, a "competitive son of a gun" as Donovan called him, wasn't shy about getting in arguments or showing his fiery side; when you're throwing more interceptions than touchdowns a year after winning Big Ten Freshman of the Year, a heightened level of dissatisfaction is understandable.
Donovan just wants his quarterback to learn when and when not to show emotions.
"He's learning that and he will just keep getting better," Donovan said. "You have to fight through it. And we've had to fight through some stuff this year."
With all the criticism of Donovan and the offense, the coordinator said a part of fighting through that "stuff" includes taking those thoughts shared by social media, friends and family with a grain of salt.
Donovan said his offense is a young group, one that can be easily influenced. That's why he said he tries to "control the room" and keep the unit tight and on the same page.
For redshirt freshman wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton, Donovan's methods work.
"A lot of people don't know what they're talking about," Hamilton said about the dispirited and suggestion-heavy fans. "We know what's going on and what our struggles are . . . All the outside noise is really irrelevant to us."
There was at least one Nittany Lion detractor, though.
Senior running back Bill Belton expressed frustrations with how the offense has been run this season.
"I don't know what's going on. I don't know," Belton said. "We've got guys all over the field that can make plays. We've got a big, 6-8 tight end, Kyle Carter, good running back group, young receivers that can play well, so I don't know.
"It's not our job to suggest plays. We just run the plays that are given to us."
Surely, a lot of Penn State fans share the same sense of unhappiness with the offense that Belton does.
But against what some would otherwise suggest, it's not all Donovan's fault.
In a disastrous season like Penn State's offense has experienced, the onus doesn't fall on one party.
And sometimes it can be a tough pill to swallow, recognizing that it's not just one person to blame but an entire unit that's at fault.
Nits sign tackle
Penn State signed junior-college transfer Paris Palmer, an offensive tackle, to a national letter of intent.
Palmer, a 6-8, 305-pounder, played the last two seasons at Lackawanna College. He is considered the No. 9 junior-college prospect by Rivals.com. Palmer said he plans to enroll at Penn State in January, and will be eligible to play in the 2015 season.