STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State offensive tackle Andrew Nelson knows outsiders still doubt this offense. He knows the offense hasn’t always played pretty, or won pretty.
He just doesn’t care.
“Obviously, at the very best, you want a win to be a beautiful win,” he said Saturday. “But, at the end of the day, the only thing we’re concerned about with is winning. So, if it’s ugly, we’ll take it every time. An ugly win, we’ll take it every day.”
Penn State’s offense has been far from pretty -- or even average, for that matter -- but this team has still reeled off five straight wins, albeit against inferior competition. The Nittany Lions are currently the only five-win team in the Power 5 that’s averaging less than 350 yards per game. (They’re ranked No. 103 in total offense with 344.3 ypg.)
Nearly every week, even during wins, the offense has remained a concern or posted up a number to worry fans of the Blue and White. It managed just two touchdowns against an Army team that surrendered five to FCS Fordham. It rushed for 2.1 yards a carry against a San Diego State defense that -- on average -- allows nearly a yard more than that. And, even against Indiana, in which it impressed overall, PSU once again struggled to open the second half and recorded just 29 total yards in the third quarter.
“It really, probably, came down to we wanted to play as ugly as football as we could for four weeks because we were just saving that stuff up for this week,” coach James Franklin said, sarcastically, on Saturday.
Even the 420-yard effort against the Hoosiers wasn’t without its caveats. Penn State started strong with a 310-yard opening half but languished in the second. Plus, IU’s defense remains one of the worst in the nation. Only two Power 5 teams -- Kansas and Texas Tech -- are allowing more yards per game (488.8).
This offense hasn’t impressed many. But players don’t seem to mind those opinions too much, not as long as this team keeps winning. Penn State is one of just 29 FBS teams with at least five victories this season.
“I don’t think we feel the need to let everyone know we’re better than they perceive us as,” Nelson said, “because the important thing to us is we’re 1-0 that week.”
Added quarterback Christian Hackenberg: “Whatever we got to do to get the job done, that’s what this team does.”
Penn State has blamed its struggles on a host of factors. Rain has been an issue in at least half of its games. The offensive line is still coming together and has dealt with several injuries. Running back Saquon Barkley, maybe the most valuable piece of this offense, has missed the last two games.
But Franklin has remained consistent throughout. He’s preached patience, telling media at his news conferences and fans at his radio show that the lack of immediate success doesn’t translate into a lack of future success.
It still remains to be seen whether Penn State can eventually boast a “pretty” offense this season, whether the first half against Indiana was a step forward or an anomaly. But, as long as the Nittany Lions keep winning, players don’t much care what critics call it. Pretty or not.