Penn State of­fen­sive en­dur­ing loss of tack­les

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Travis John­son

STATE COL­LEGE >> The as­cent of a few of­fen­sive line­men is com­ing at a good time for Penn State.

The No. 12 Nit­tany Lions (7-2, 5-1 Big Ten, CFP), who lost right tackle An­drew Nel­son to a sea­son-end­ing knee in­jury four weeks ago, will likely be with­out fel­low starter Bren­dan Ma­hon when they play In­di­ana on Satur­day. Penn State coach James Franklin did not rule out a re­turn later this sea­son for Ma­hon who ap­peared to in­jure a foot on the first play against Iowa. He was carted from the side­line to the locker room and re­placed by Chasz Wright who’s ex­pected to make his first start.

“We’ll see how the week plays out. And then we’re also work­ing on some other vari­ables,” Franklin said. “We kind of have a bunch of dif­fer­ent plans but right now ob­vi­ously we have the sit­u­a­tion with how the game ended.”

That in­cluded in­sert­ing the flex­i­ble Wright along­side a much-im­proved unit con­sist­ing of vet­eran cen­ter Brian Gaia, two fresh­men and a recla­ma­tion project tabbed to play the group’s most crit­i­cal spot.

For­mer ju­nior col­lege trans­fer Paris Palmer will make his fourth-straight start pro­tect­ing quar­ter­back Trace McSor­ley’s blind­side and is sud­denly the team’s most ex­pe­ri­enced tackle avail­able. Un­like guards Ryan Bates and Con­nor McGovern, who earned start­ing jobs quickly and have held on to them, Palmer had to come off the bench this year af­ter his de­but sea­son full of strug­gles.

Hav­ing in­jured his knee his se­nior year of high school, Palmer spent what would’ve been his fresh­man year in col­lege work­ing in a fac­tory drop­ping cashews, peanuts and dates into tubes to make trail mix. He then en­rolled at Lack­awanna Col­lege to play a sea­son before ar­riv­ing at Penn State with ju­nior el­i­gi­bil­ity.

He came with lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence as a pass blocker hav­ing played in a Wing T of­fense in high school and no real strength train­ing back­ground. Due to his lack of FBS ex­pe­ri­ence, op­pos­ing pres­sures were usu­ally aimed at Palmer and Penn State’s ram­shackle of­fen­sive line al­lowed 39 sacks a year af­ter it gave up 44.

“I couldn’t get down about it,” Palmer said of los­ing his start­ing spot in the off­sea­son. “I couldn’t lose con­fi­dence be­cause at any mo­ment in the game of foot­ball you can be brought into the game at any time.”

Now, those sack num­bers are down, rush­ing to­tals are up and Penn State’s of­fense is among the most ex­plo­sive in the coun­try thanks to con­sis­tency up front.

Palmer’s turn­around has helped and so has the steady­ing in­flu­ence of team cap­tain Gaia. Bates has set­tled in nicely as a starter in his sec­ond year and McGovern was re­cently named the Big Ten Fresh­man of the Week for a dom­i­nat­ing ef­fort against Iowa that saw Penn State rush for 359 yards. Wright, while he’ll make his first start, has also helped out at guard this sea­son.

Quar­ter­back Trace McSor­ley even at­tributes the team’s im­pres­sive plus-6 turnover mar­gin to his front five. He’s get­ting hit less — he was get­ting drilled and fum­bling in the first few weeks — and has plenty of time to find receivers down the field. Like the 6-foot-7, 300-pound Palmer, Wright is among the team’s most phys­i­cally im­pos­ing play­ers at 6-foot-7, 343 pounds.

They’re play­ing like it, too.

“They’re play­ing re­ally phys­i­cal foot­ball up front,” tight end Mike Gesicki said.

ABBY DREY — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Penn State foot­ball coach James Franklin cel­e­brates the win over Iowa with run­ning back Saquon Barkley Abby Drey dur­ing an NCAA col­lege foot­ball game in State Col­lege, Pa., Satur­day.

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