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Bill O’Brien is putting Penn State’s offensive overhaul in his own hands

Matt Hinton
Dr. Saturday

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He didn't say anything about a "decided schematic advantage," thank goodness, but otherwise Bill O'Brien is following the Weis Plan: After a wildly successful stint with the New England Patriots, O'Brien said he'll hold onto play-calling duties at Penn State and has no plans to assign anyone to the post of offensive coordinator. The Nittany Lion offense will be Bill O'Brien's offense.

And why not? In his first year presiding over the offense in New England, the Patriots finished second in the NFL in total offense, third in scoring and are one win from another Super Bowl despite boasting a wretched defense that ranked 31st out of 32 teams in the league. If not for Drew Brees' towering inferno of a season in New Orleans, Tom Brady's 2011 campaign would rank as the most prolific of all-time. Presumably O'Brien knows what he's doing on this front.

At least, he does when a future Hall-of-Famer is at the controls. How that translates to an attack that's languished at the bottom of the Big Ten rankings with quarterbacks Robert Bolden and Matt McGloin pulling the trigger last two years, well… I guess we're all about to find out together.

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Between them, McGloin and Bolden combined for the worst pass efficiency rating in the conference in 2011, one year after coming in next-to-last in 2010. As a team, the Lions failed to top 20 points in six of eight Big Ten games and scored a grand total of six touchdowns in four games against teams that finished in the final AP poll — including a garbage-time score against Alabama, their only touchdown of the game. Not surprisingly, those games accounted for all four Penn State losses.

The incredible part, of course, is that the Lions actually managed to win as many as they did in spite of their inability to move the ball consistently through the air or, you know, score in any fashion at all. They beat Temple with 14 points, Indiana with 16, Iowa with 13 and Illinois with 10 en route to a 8-1 start, and held on to beat Ohio State in November, 20-14, despite a punch-less, scoreless second half. The complete dearth of firepower on offense — since 2008, Penn State has signed exactly one skill player (tailback Silas Redd) with at least a four-star rating from Rivals — is as painfully obvious as the ineptitude at quarterback.

On the other hand, those failures also present O'Brien with an opportunity: There hasn't been a significant change in the offensive coaching staff or philosophy in more than a decade, and there is obviously nowhere to go but up. If he can coax anything at all out of the incumbent quarterbacks, at this point, even mediocrity will look like a revelation.

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Matt Hinton is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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