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Is Phil Trautwein Making Penn State an Offensive Line School?

The offensive line coach has long been maligned at Penn State. Phil Trautwein is looking to change that.



Jan 2, 2023; Pasadena, California, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions offensive lineman Juice Scruggs (70) celebrates after running back Kaytron Allen (not pictured) scores a touchdown in the second half against the Utah Utes in the 109th Rose Bowl game at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Death, taxes, and Penn State’s poor offensive line play. Some things in life seem unavoidable.

The Nittany Lions’ woes up front have felt so consistent in recent years that the running offseason joke has become, “will the offensive line be any better this year?”

As a result, the offensive line coach has become one of the most maligned positions on the staff. James Franklin cycled through three changes at the position by his seventh season at Penn State.

When Phil Trautwein was hired before the 2020 season, it was widely viewed as one of James Franklin’s more successful coaching moves. Trautwein’s track record as a player and coach provided the clout to take the offensive line room to the next level.

Heading into his fourth season with the Nittany Lions, the narrative around the offensive line has shifted. Rather than a liability, the line is a strength and source of stability for the offense in 2023. 

Was this a natural progression, or has Phil Trautwein elevated the standard of offensive line play at Penn State? Was there ever an issue to begin with, or was the line merely a scapegoat for poor offensive performances?

By the Numbers

Quantifying offensive line performance is tricky. Football is a team sport, and various factors influence every stat. But this is particularly true for the offensive line. For example, a dynamic running back – like Saquon Barkley – can overcome the mistakes made by an average offensive line.

Nevertheless, the results are intriguing. I looked at the “stuff rate” for the running game, defined as the percentage of times running backs are stopped before or at the line of scrimmage. This can be an appropriate measurement of the line’s ability to establish running lanes from the snap. This is something that, at least anecdotally, has been an issue for Penn State in the past.

As expected, the Herb Hand years immediately following the sanctions were the worst in this area. Roughly a quarter of all runs were stopped at or before the line of scrimmage in 2014 and 2015. This earned Penn State an average national ranking of 123rd for those years.

Under Matt Limegrover, these numbers improved considerably. Between 2016 and 2019, Penn State’s average stuff rate fell to 19%, and its average yearly ranking improved to 63rd. In 2018, the Nittany Lions finished 34th nationally in this category, and in 2019, they finished 5th. It’s also interesting to note that in 2016, even with Saquon Barkley, Penn State finished 119th in the nation, with almost 24% of all runs stopped before the line. 

On aggregate, Trautwein’s lines have kept pace with his predecessor. The average annual stuff rate improved to 18%, but the average yearly ranking fell to 66th. This is undoubtedly influenced by 2021 when the Nittany Lions finished 116th nationally in stuff rate. If you needed another metric to explain how poor the Lions’ running game was last year, there’s another tool for your tool chest.

However, Trautwein elevated the line’s performance to pre-pandemic levels in 2022. Penn State finished with 16% of all runs stopped before the line of scrimmage, the third-best year on record for the James Franklin era.

I took a more straightforward approach in the passing game and looked at the number of sacks allowed by year. Once again, the offensive lines under Hand struggled, finishing on average 115th nationally with 42 sacks allowed per year. Limegrover’s units took a dramatic step forward, allowing 29 sacks per year for an average annual ranking of 74th. Trautwein has held serve, with his lines allowing 28 sacks per year and sporting an average yearly ranking of 81st. However, in 2022, Penn State finished 40th in the nation with 21 sacks allowed. This was the best performance since Franklin arrived at Penn State.

Pro Prospects

You can also measure a position coach’s success by the number of players he puts in the NFL. But the number of players drafted on the offensive line under James Franklin has been slim.

Between 2015 and 2018, only one offensive lineman was selected in the NFL Draft. Oddly enough, Donovan Smith’s 2015 2nd round selection was the highest of any lineman drafted under James Franklin. Overall, 2019 was Penn State’s most “successful” year in producing NFL-caliber linemen. Connor McGovern was selected in the 3rd round, while Ryan Bates was signed as an undrafted free agent.

While the numbers aren’t great, it’s worth noting that Smith, McGovern, and Bates are still starters in the NFL. In a way, this speaks to the foundation each established at Penn State, which has allowed them to go on to multi-year pro careers.

Phil Trautwein has had three of his linemen drafted, but all have been late-round selections. Will Fries and Michal Menet were 7th-round selections in 2021. Rasheed Walker was a 7th-round pick during last year’s draft.

If we’re trying to grade James Franklin’s offensive line coaches in terms of the caliber of pros produced, I’d call it a push. Matt Limegrover has been the only coach with enough time to develop a group of linemen throughout their careers. So, multiple coaches share credit for the development of these players. While several Nittany Lions have gone on to respectable pro careers, the number of linemen in the NFL has just been underwhelming.

Developing Depth

Recruiting and developing young talent is where the argument for Trautwein picks up steam.

Between 2015 and 2020, Penn State signed 13 four-star and nine three-star linemen out of high school, according to On3’s Consensus rankings. Since Trautwein’s first complete recruiting cycle (2021), he has either signed or received verbal commitments from seven four-stars and four three-stars.

However, the glaring omission before Trautwein’s arrival is the lack of five-star talent on the offensive line. Trautwein broke this trend in the most recent recruiting cycle by signing Jven Williams, who is a five-star talent according to On3 and 247 Sports. Penn State also signed Alex Birchmeier, a highly-rated four-star who barely missed the five-star threshold.

Further still, Trautwein has made the most of these prospects once they arrive on campus. Olu Fashanu has quickly developed into a potential top-ten NFL Draft pick, despite only making nine starts in his career. Landon Tengwall started five games in his redshirt freshman season this fall before being sidelined with an injury. Forced into action due to injuries, true freshman Drew Shelton started the final four games this season. All these talented young players will have roles in 2023, creating potentially the deepest offensive line unit in James Franklin’s tenure at Penn State.

Trautwein’s success in developing young talent has not gone unnoticed by recruits. Last week, the Nittany Lions signed Chimdy Onoh, one of the highest-rated uncommitted players remaining in the 2023 class. Penn State already has a commitment from Cooper Cousins, who is ranked as the third-best player in Pennsylvania for the class of 2024. Trautwein has also made headway in the 2025 class when he received the Nittany Lions’ first commitment of the cycle last week in the form of four-star prospect Jaelyne Matthews

Is Phil Trautwein Making Penn State an Offensive Line School? 

Has Phil Trautwein improved the offensive line play at Penn State?

Although the numbers might not be there yet, ultimately, I think the answer will be yes. Trautwein took over during the 2020 pandemic season, a challenging situation to navigate. The on-field performance may have dipped, but he restored the line to its pre-pandemic levels last year.

However, Trautwein has made his impact by elevating the standard of what can be possible up front at Penn State.

Trautwein has pulled more from his young talent on the offensive line than any of his predecessors. He will likely have the first offensive lineman selected in the first round of the NFL Draft for Penn State since Levi Brown in 2007.

Penn State has also raised its recruiting prowess. Happy Valley is quickly becoming a destination for the top linemen in the region. 

This upcoming season will be a big test for Phil Trautwein. The Nittany Lions return a tremendous amount of veteran leadership and talented depth in the offensive line room. The success of that unit in 2023 will not only impact the Nittany Lions’ playoff hopes. It will also have longstanding ramifications on what future offensive lines at Penn State can look like.

Has Phil Trautwein made Penn State into an offensive line school? No, not quite yet. But now, more than ever before under James Franklin, it can be.


James Franklin describes how player competition drives success

Two of Penn State’s biggest stars have used competition to drive their success on the field.



James Franklin, Penn State football, KeAndre Lambert-Smith, Kalen King
Sep 23, 2023; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith (1) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Iowa 31-0. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Iron sharpens iron is a common phrase used in football. Top players compete against each other to make each other better. The Penn State football team has had several battles that have led to individual growth. But one has stood out more than any other battle. That was between wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith and Kalen King. Two of Penn State’s biggest stars who used practice reps to get ready for this season. Now, early in 2023, they’re enjoying each other’s success according to James Franklin.

James Franklin describes how player competition drives success

Wide receiver No. 1 and cornerback No. 1 had some heated exchanges this summer in practice. But at the end of the day, both players have become stronger because of that. James Franklin spoke about the relationship between Kalen King and KeAndre Lambert-Smith and how on Saturday night they shared their success.

Franklin said during his media availability on Tuesday, “One of the cool things that I thought happened on Saturday is after KeAndre [Lambert-Smith] scored his touchdown, on the fade ball, which I thought was a really big-time play. The first guy to meet him coming off the sideline was Kalen King. Kalen and KeAndre’s battles at practice are legendary. And I think that was a really good example, tip of the hat of Kalen seeing KeAndre being successful and KeAndre saying you’re a big part of that success because of how we go against each other every single day at practice. So, I thought that was a really cool moment for all of the players on the sideline to see.”

KeAndre Lambert-Smith has had a great 2023 season thus far

One of the biggest question marks heading into this season was who would be wide receiver No. 1 for the Penn State football team. KeAndre Lambert-Smith has answered that question with confidence. So far this season he has racked up 21 catches for 286 yards and 3 touchdowns. He is someone that Drew Allar can certainly rely on.

Thank you for reading Basic Blues Nation. Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news and insights on your favorite Penn State athletics. For feedback, questions, concerns, or to apply for a writing position, please email us at [email protected] or direct message us on our social media. Also, be sure to check out our new site shop. It’s due to your support that we can become one of the market’s fastest-growing Penn State sports outlets!

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Big Ten power rankings update: Penn State can’t jump Ohio State after wild weekend

Penn State football looked dominant on Saturday, but still can’t jump Ohio State in the latest Big Ten power rankings after a wild week in the conference.



Penn State Football, Big Ten Power Rankings, Ohio State
Sep 23, 2023; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day celebrates Chip Trayanum (19) game winning rushing touchdown against Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the fourth quarter of their game at Notre Dame Stadium.

It was a wild weekend of college football in the Big Ten. We saw walkoff winners from Ohio State and Northwestern, while teams like Penn State football and Maryland cruised to dominant victories. Now that we’re fully into conference play, the pecking order becomes more delineated. How did Week 4 impact our newest Big Ten power rankings?

Updated Big Ten power rankings

After another exciting week of college football, some clear separation is happening in the Big Ten. The top tier of three teams is a clear upper echelon of the conference, with a bright red line separating them and the next level.

A second tier is forming and, for now, has two teams. But this could expand as we get deeper into the season. These two teams are not at the big boy level yet and have a few flaws, but have played fairly well to this point.

And below them is a lower third tier with everyone else. These teams could be ranked in any order, and it would be justified. All the teams in this third tier have major flaws. Unless they have a drastic turnaround, they certainly will not be reaching the elite part of the conference this year.

With all of that said, let’s get to this week’s edition of the Big Ten power rankings.

No. 14 Indiana 2-2 (Last week 13)

The good news is the Hoosiers beat Akron. The bad news is they needed four overtimes to do it despite being 16-point favorites. The Zips had a chance to end it in regulation but missed a 32-yard field goal. The Hoosiers are still dropping to the bottom of the Big Ten power rankings this week.

It’s hard to see too many more victories on the schedule. The Terps are up next.

No. 13 Northwestern 2-2 (Last week 14)

The Wildcats pulled off a surprising victory over Minnesota Saturday night. They were down 31-10 at the start of the 4th quarter but scored three unanswered touchdowns to force overtime, where they won it in the extra frame.

Quarterback Ben Bryant had a career night with 396 yards and four touchdowns. It will be tougher to put up that kind of performance against Penn State football next week.

No. 12 Purdue 1-3 (Last week 11)

The Boilers could not stop Wisconsin’s Braelon Allen or the Badgers fast start on their way to a 38-17 home loss. Hudson Card rushed for a touchdown but threw two interceptions on a three-turnover night for Purdue.

This looks like it could be a rough first year for head coach Ryan Walters. He will face off against his old team, Illinois, next Saturday.

No. 11 Nebraska 2-2 (Last week 12)

Quarterback Heinrich Haarberg got the start again for the Huskers and was the team’s leading rusher with 157 yards. He had a touchdown on the ground and through the air as Nebraska defeated Louisiana Tech 28-14.

After an 0-2 start, the Huskers have recorded back-to-back victories. It may be short-lived as the Wolverines come to Lincoln this Saturday.

No. 10 Michigan State 2-2 (Last week 9)

The Spartans are in complete disarray on and off the field. Against Maryland, they turned over the ball five times on their way to a 31-9 defeat. They outgained the Terps in total yards, but the turnovers were absolute killers.

If Michigan State keeps it up, it may find itself even lower in the power rankings next week. But the Spartans travel to offensively challenged Iowa next Saturday night, so perhaps their fortunes will turn.

No. 9 Illinois 2-2 (Last week 10)

Illinois was down 10-0 to FAU after the first quarter and needed a comeback to defeat the Owls 23-17. After a rough outing against Penn State football the previous week, Luke Altmyer had a better day with over 300 yards, a touchdown, and no interceptions.

Squeaking by FAU does not breed much confidence, though. But with what is below the Illini in the power rankings, they actually get to move up a spot. The Illini are at Purdue next week.

No. 8 Rutgers 3-1 (Last week 8)

The Scarlet Knights scored on their opening drive against Michigan on a 69-yard pass from Gavin Wimsatt. That would be all their scoring as Michigan scored the final 31 points. There were plenty of missed opportunities for Rutgers, none more costly than a pick-six, with the Scarlet Knights driving in the third quarter only down 10 points. That pretty much sealed Rutgers’s fate.

This still may be a decent Rutgers team, but against its best competition so far, it failed. However, there is no shame in losing to the No. 2 team in the country, so they stay put in the rankings for the week. Up next is a sure-to-be win against FCS Wagner.

No. 7 Minnesota 2-2 (Last week 7)

Minnesota blew a three-score lead in the fourth quarter and then lost to Northwestern in overtime. Darius Taylor was a workhorse with nearly 200 yards on the ground and a touchdown. But the Gophers do not have a very good quarterback in Athan Kaliakmanis, and the defense gave up nearly 500 yards to a bad Wildcat offense.

This was a bad loss for Minnesota, but it is difficult to drop them even a spot because of what is behind them in the rankings. The Gophers will look to bounce back next week against Louisiana.

No. 6 Iowa 3-1 (Last week 5)

Brutal. Ugly. Pathetic. Those are just a few adjectives used to describe the Hawkeyes’ performance in a 31-0 shutout loss to Penn State football. They had 76 total yards and had an equal amount of first downs as they did turnovers with four each. 

There is a ton of finger-pointing from fans after a game like this, and they are primarily pointing at Kirk and Brian Ferentz. The good news for Iowa is that it likely will not face as good of a defense as it did with Penn State again. Iowa certainly can right the ship this week with a home game against Michigan State.

No. 5 Wisconsin 3-1 (Last week 6)

Wisconsin finally got off to a fast start, scoring touchdowns on its first three offensive possessions. The Badgers held off Purdue for the victory, but it came at a cost, as running back Chez Mellusi was lost for the season with a broken leg.

The Badgers get a bye week at a good time, as they will adjust without Mellusi. After the off week, they will host Rutgers.

No. 4 Maryland 4-0 (Last week 4)

The Terps cruised to another comfortable victory, defeating Michigan State 31-9. It was Maryland’s first victory in East Lansing since 1950.

Maryland’s offense, led by Taulia Tagovailoa, gets much attention, but the Terp defense has been pulling its weight. The Terps have only allowed four touchdowns in their first four games and have come up with 11 turnovers. Up next is a home date with Indiana.

No. 3 Penn State 4-0 (Last week 3)

The Nittany Lions took it to Iowa in front of a White Out crowd, shutting out the Hawkeyes. This was a redemption win for the 2021 loss at Kinnick. Most impressively, Penn State controlled the ball for over 45 minutes and ran 97 plays to Iowa’s 33 snaps.

The margin between Penn State and Ohio State looks awfully thin. Still, for now, the Buckeyes remain ahead in the Big Ten power rankings. Luckily, there is a game between the two in about a month that will settle it. For now, Penn State football travels to Northwestern next.

No. 2 Ohio State 4-0 (Last week 2)

On Saturday night, Ohio State pulled off a thrilling 17-14 victory over Notre Dame in South Bend. They had a 3-0 lead at halftime, then a 10-0 lead early in the third quarter. The Irish scored the next two touchdowns, and it was not until nearly the very end the Buckeyes scored the game-winner with a Chip Trayanum 1-yard rush at the goal line. The Irish also had only 10 guys on the field for the Buckeyes’ last two snaps.

For Penn State, it was better for Ohio State to remain undefeated. The two teams appear to be on a collision course for a top-10 matchup in a few weeks in Columbus. For now, Ohio State gets a bye week.

No. 1 Michigan 4-0 (Last week 1)

The Wolverines started slow against Rutgers, but finished strong in Jim Harbaugh’s first game on the sidelines this season. JJ McCarthy was efficient, going 15 of 21 for 214 and a score. Blake Corum also had two scores along with 97 yards. After giving up an explosive play for a touchdown on Rutgers’s third play of the game, the Wolverine defense settled in giving up less than 190 yards the rest of the way and returning an interception for a touchdown.

The Wolverines will finally leave the comforts of home as they hit the road to Lincoln next Saturday.

Thank you for reading Basic Blues Nation. Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news and insights on your favorite Penn State athletics. For feedback, questions, concerns, or to apply for a writing position, please email us at [email protected] or direct message us on our social media. Also, be sure to check out our new site shop. It’s due to your support that we can become one of the market’s fastest-growing Penn State sports outlets!

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Drew Allar has helped build a championship culture at Penn State

The Penn State football team has an outstanding culture and Drew Allar has been a key contributor to that this season.



Drew Allar, Penn State, KJ Winston Jr.
Sep 23, 2023; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Drew Allar (15) looks to throw a pass during the second quarter against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Iowa 31-0. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret that Drew Allar has been phenomenal early in his Penn State football career. The physical attributes are one thing but his decision-making is on another level. Through the games he appeared in during his freshman season and the first four games this season he has played mistake-free. He has yet to throw an interception in college and because of that, the ball security for Penn State has been phenomenal. KJ Winston Jr. referred to the battles the defense had with Drew Allar and prepared them for this season.

Drew Allar has helped build a championship culture at Penn State

James Franklin spoke earlier this summer about how many practices it took during fall camp before Allar threw an interception. Now, we have seen that translate to the field as well. Drew Allar has gone through the first four games of the season throwing 8 touchdown passes against 0 interceptions. He has protected the ball very well. Penn State football safety KJ Winston Jr. met with the media yesterday and described what it’s like practicing against Allar.

Winston Jr. said, “I really think it’s because of all fall camp and practice going against Drew [Allar] and kind of giving our best shot at him and him giving his best shot at us. I think just you know, in practice going back and forth it allowed him to come into the game feeling comfortable. We were playing against Drew like it was a championship game every day…”

Penn State is leading the country in these areas

The Nittany Lions posted on social media all of the categories they lead the nation in through four weeks. They’re 1st in pass defense, total defense, first downs allowed, turnover margin. Then offensively they lead in fewest turnovers, and time of possession. Because of what Drew Allar and the Penn State defense did during fall camp, it has translated to the field this fall very well.

Thank you for reading Basic Blues Nation. Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news and insights on your favorite Penn State athletics. For feedback, questions, concerns, or to apply for a writing position, please email us at [email protected] or direct message us on our social media. Also, be sure to check out our new site shop. It’s due to your support that we can become one of the market’s fastest-growing Penn State sports outlets!

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