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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.


Penn State opens the season at No. 5 in preseason poll

The Nittany Lions are ranked at No. 5 in a major preseason poll.



Penn State football preseason poll
Jan 2, 2023; Pasadena, California, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions wide receiver Harrison Wallace III (6) makes a catch against Utah Utes safety R.J. Hubert (11) in the second half of the 109th Rose Bowl game at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

STATE COLLEGE, PA — On Tuesday, 247 Sports released its 2023 college football preseason top 25 poll. 247 lists three Big Ten programs in the top-5 and four Big Ten programs in the top 25. Among the top teams in the nation is Penn State football, who checked in at No. 5 on 247’s preseason poll.

Penn State football ranked at No. 5 in major 2023 preseason poll

The Penn State football team had an incredible season in 2022, going 11-2 overall, finishing the year at No. 7, and winning the Rose Bowl game against No. 8 Utah. If that was not enough, the Nittany Lions return a ton of talent, including some old faces like Chop Robinson, Nick Singleton, Kaytron Allen, Abdul Carter, and more. On the other hand, Penn State will also have some new faces starting, such as rising sophomore Drew Allar, who will be taking over as Penn State’s starting quarterback for the first time this fall.

Heading into the new season, Penn State’s win total is set at 9.5 — the only two Big Ten teams listed above Penn State are the Michigan Wolverines (10.5) and Ohio State Buckeyes (10.5) — these two are both ranked ahead of Penn State football in the 247 preseason poll as well.

Here are the four Big Ten teams ranked in 247’s preseason poll and where they rank:

What does 247 say about the Nittany Lions in their preseason poll?

247’s ranking system is based off of cumulative points, of which Penn State football has 114. The team ahead of the Nittany Lions — the Alabama Crimson Tide — has 131. In comparison to Michigan (141) and Ohio State (137), there seems to be some work to be done in order to catch up. Here is what 247 had to say about Penn State ahead of the 2023 season:

“Ranked as high as No. 5 by 247 Sports and as low as No. 9 (The Sporting News), there’s a bit of a preseason variance associated with the Nittany Lions, who welcome back a pair of standout freshmen ballcarriers and former five-star quarterback Drew Allar, who assumes the starting title. Getting through Michigan and Ohio State is the primary task at hand for Penn State, who won 11 games last season but failed to conquer the Wolverines or the Buckeyes.”

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Penn State is dominating the 2022-23 athletic calendar

Few athletic departments, if any, are seeing levels of success like Penn State right now.



Penn State football, Penn State wrestling
Jan 2, 2023; Pasadena, California, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) celebrates on the podium after defeating the Utah Utes in the 109th Rose Bowl game at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

STATE COLLEGE, PA — Since the start of the most recent school year, the Penn State Nittany Lions have been on quite the hot streak. To kick things off — from September through January — the Penn State football team made an impressive run. Since then, the Lions have seen a great deal of success across many other sports as well, including some men’s basketball, hockey, Penn State wrestling, and more.

Penn State football kicks off incredible run for PSU athletics

At the beginning of the 2022-23 calendar, the Penn State football team came into the season unranked for the first time since the Nittany Lions’ incredible Big Ten title run in 2016. In Week 1, Penn State took down the eventual Big Ten West Champs (Purdue) on the road before destroying the eventual MAC East champs (Ohio) in Week 2, and Auburn in Week 3.

The Nittany Lions’ season started hot, and despite some road bumps along the way (losses at Michigan and vs. Ohio State), Penn State came away with an incredible season to say the least. All said and done, James Franklin and his team finished 11-2, won the Rose Bowl, snapped Penn State’s top 10 losing streak, and finished ranked in the top 10 for the fourth time in the past six full seasons.

Penn State wrestling wins national title

On Saturday, the Penn State wrestling team — led by legendary head coach Cael Sanderson — won its 10th national title in the past 12 tournaments. Sanderson, who took over the program before the 2009-10 season, has turned the Nittany Lions into the greatest college sports dynast of our time, and doesn’t appear to be finished yet. Two weeks ago, Penn State claimed its 7th-ever Big Ten tournament title not long after bringing home the regular season title with a 16-0 overall record and an 8-0 Big Ten record.

During the NCAA tournament, Penn State wrestling tied the program record for All-Americans (8) before winning the 11th national championship in program history just minutes into the first session on Saturday. The Nittany Lions also claimed two individual national titles.

Men’s basketball makes impressive run

Heading into the 2022-23 season, the Penn State basketball program did not appear to be in very good shape. The Nittany Lions had not been to the NCAA tournament in over ten years (2011), and had not won a tournament game in over 20 years (2001). Under second-year head coach Micah Shrewsberry, the Nittany Lions defied all odds and performed well above expectations. Additionally, Penn State basketball broke a few records (such as the Penn State and Big Ten record for most 3-pointers made in a single season), and even appeared in the conference title game against Purdue.

On Saturday night, Penn State basketball was narrowly eliminated from the NCAA tournament by the 2-seed Texas Longhorns; however, this is only the beginning for Nittany Lion hoops. Now, it’s time for AD Pat Kraft and the administration to give Micah Shrewsberry whatever he wants to keep him in State College for the long haul.

Hockey (M) will have a shot at the national title

On Sunday night, the Nittany Lions earned the elusive bid to the NCAA tournament and will compete for the national championship. Seeing as the Penn State hockey team (men’s) is currently ranked No. 10 in the coaches poll and No. 8 in the pairwise, the Nittany Lions will undoubtedly get their bid to the 16-team NCAA tournament. It has been a historic season in Hockey Valley — the Lions have pulled off numerous massive upsets over multiple No. 1 teams and more — though as of late, Penn State has slowly declined a bit.

After dropping in round one of the Big Ten tournament to the Ohio State Buckeyes, the Nittany Lions will look to bounce-back and make a run at the national championship this spring.

Hockey (W) wins first-ever conference title

For the first time in program history, the Penn State hockey team (women’s) won a conference title last month. Goalie Josie Bothun was named CHA Tournament MVP en route to a 2-1 win over Mercyhurst in the CHA tournament championship game — the Lions made the NCAA tournament as well, though fell short to Quinnipiac in round one.

Many spring sports off to a hot start

Thus far, during the 2023 spring/summer athletic schedule, the Penn State Nittany Lions are doing quite well. The Penn State men’s lacrosse team is currently ranked in the top-5 with a 5-2 record, and are heading into a massive game against Maryland next weekend.

The Penn State men’s volleyball team is currently ranked No. 2 in the land with an 18-2 record — the men’s team just upset No. 1 Hawaii in a massive road showdown and will host Ohio State at Rec Hall on Tuesday.

The Penn State baseball team is not ranked, though does boast an impressive 11-5 record on the season. The Nittany Lions opened their home schedule with a 6-1 win over Georgetown on Saturday and followed it up with a 7-2 win on Sunday.

The Penn State softball team is also off to a great start, boasting an outstanding 17-4 record to star the year. The ladies will host Pitt in State College on Tuesday.

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Urban Meyer says the pressure is on for Penn State football in 2023

Does former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer have a point about James Franklin and Penn State?



Urban Meyer comments on Penn State football
Oct 28, 2017; Columbus, OH, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin (left) and Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer greet before the game at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

STATE COLLEGE, PA — Recently, former Florida and Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer had some words on the Penn State Nittany Lions. According to the former Buckeye coach — who won a national title and more during his time in Columbus — there is a lot of pressure for James Franklin and his Penn State football team to meet the Nittany Lions’ high expectations this fall.

Penn State football heads into the 2023 season with huge expectations

The past few years have been full of ups and downs for the Penn State football program. After winning the Big Ten in 2016 — the team’s first year back from the sanctions set in 2012 — the Nittany Lions had a solid four-year stretch. From 2016-2019, Penn State football had three 11-win seasons, one 9-win season, won a Big Ten title, and two New Year’s Six bowls. Additionally, the Lions finished ranked in all four seasons, and finished top 10 in three of those seasons.

After going 11-2 and winning the Cotton Bowl in 2019, Penn State slipped into a hole that it took years to climb out of. In Week 1 of the 2020 season, the Nittany Lions fell on the road to Indiana; Penn State’s first loss of 2020 was just one of many disappointing moments that season, which ended up being the Lions’ first losing season under head coach James Franklin.

In 2020, Penn State football started off 5-0 and climbed its way into the top-4 before many key injuries seemingly forced the Lions into a 2-6 finish. Penn State’s 24-10 loss to Arkansas in the Outback Bowl, which dropped the team’s record to 7-6 on the season, was just salt in the wound for many fans. Despite a stellar four-year stretch from 2019-2019, Penn State started the new decade with an 11-11 record though two seasons. That being said, with a young, healthy team in 2022, the Nittany Lions bounced-back against all odds.

In Penn State’s most recent season, James Franklin and his squad came into the year unranked for the first time since 2016. Early-on, it was clear that the 2022 team was special; however, Penn State hit a few road bumps at Michigan and against Ohio State. Despite these two losses — both to CFP teams — Penn State managed to win out and finish 10-2 with an incredibly young roster. The 10-2 record was good enough to send the Lions to the Rose Bowl against No. 8 Utah — Penn State football defeated the Utes 35-21 to snap its top 10 losing streak, bring home another NY6 bowl, and win the program’s second-ever Rose Bowl game to close out the 2022 season.

While this was all great for the program, it also has set some incredibly high expectations heading into 2023.

Urban Meyer claims the pressure is on for the Nittany Lions in 2023

Recently, on The Hard Count (On3), former Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer had some praise, and some added pressure for the Penn State football team heading into a new season this fall. While the Lions may be young, Penn State is experienced, has a veteran coaching staff, and is arguably more talented than just about anyone in the nation with star players like Drew Allar on offense and Abdul Carter on defense.

Here is what Meyer had to say about the Penn State Nittany Lions:

“I think it’s an enormous amount of pressure,” Meyer said on The Hard Count. “… In ’16, they had a great year. They beat us. They have to beat the Wolverines, they have to beat the Buckeyes. I’ll tell you what, they’re loaded. They have two running backs that are elite.

“That quarterback that’s going to take over is tremendous. We got to do several of his games. James Franklin has done a really good job. But he’s got to close the deal and, unfortunately, they’ve got to go to The Horseshoe this year. It’s a tough place to play.”

To Meyer’s point: yes, Franklin has done a great job with turning the Penn State football program back into a winner. That being said, the Nittany Lions need to keep climbing the ladder and get from NY6 status to CFP status eventually, and 2023 is looking like a perfect opportunity. Both Michigan and Ohio State are looking stacked this year; but then again, so are the Nittany Lions.

Like Urban Meyer, many Penn State fans are tired of looking to next year for greater success — it’s time that Penn State football finally breaks through its glass ceiling and reaches the next level.

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 or direct message us on our social media. 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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