Matt Millen visited Penn State in April for the Blue-White Game, which he broadcast for Big Ten Network. He left with some specific impressions of the Nittany Lions, notably regarding the offensive line.
In a recent interview about those impressions, Millen kept returning to the offensive line. For him, the line remains Penn State football's single biggest question mark for 2022.
"The biggest thing is, they need to get that offensive line straightened out or they'll have the same problems they did a year ago," Millen said.
With that in mind, here's our Q&A with Millen. You'll notice the recurring theme.
Question: What were your impressions of Penn State from spring practice and the Blue-White Game?
Millen: They have good skill people, their offensive line needs work, they need to find a pass rusher, somehow either somebody coming in or by developing the ones they have. The secondary's pretty good, they should be good on the outside with their receivers and they should have a good running back group.
The biggest thing is, they need to get that offensive line straightened out or they'll have the same problems they did a year ago. They've got to move people. Until that's legit, things will be the same.
Q: What would you like to see Penn State do with the offensive line?
Millen: Get better. I want to see an offensive line that has a starting point and, at midseason, they're better than they were, and at the end of the season they're even better than that. That's what you look at as an evaluator. You want to see if the kids get better. I haven't seen that. They have the same problems at the end of the year that they do at the beginning of the year.
And it affects everybody. It affects the running game, it affects the passing game. [Quarterback Sean Clifford] is not a real poised guy, so he needs protection. And so when he gets protected, he can be pretty good.
Q: Sean Clifford played well last year until he got hurt...
Millen: ... Until he got hit a couple times.
Q: Right. So what's his ceiling this year, assuming he stays healthy?
Millen: If protected, he can throw for a lot of yards. I like [receiver Parker] Washingon, and he'll probably be their No. 1. They've got to strike a balance offensively and, again, the whole thing is the offensive line. That's it. The offensive line will determine how well Clifford plays and how well the running backs run the football.
Q: When will the offensive line get over the hump?
Millen: So every now and then you get a guy — they're rare, they're super rare — who can make you miss in two feet. I don't know how they do it. They're just freaks. At Penn State, I can think of two of them: Saquon Barkley and Curt Warner. You know how many guys there are like that? Very, very few. So they need help. Are they capable enough [on the offensive line] to do that? They're capable enough. They just have to do it.
Q: After going 11-11 the past two seasons, how does James Franklin win back fans who are disappointed with the team's progress?
Millen: Win. That's it, you know that. James is a great recruiter. James is an excellent umbrella guy, like a CEO. He needs to improve as a gameday coach. He's a phenomenal recruiter and he needs to get better as a playcaller. [Offensive coordinator Mike] Yurcich needs to be good, and I like [defensive coordinator] Manny Diaz. I think Manny's legit, so I think they're fine there.
Q: What does Manny Diaz add to Penn State's defense?
Millen: It's just consistency. He understands what they were doing a year ago, and he'll play to their strengths. Great coaches are great because they know what each player does and they play to the strength of the player. That's what he has to do. But it still comes down to the offensive line and how well they play.
Q: You've mentioned the offensive line several times. Why has it been an issue the past few years?
Millen: It's the way they're teaching it. They're not physical. They just walk up to you. When you watch film, even the TV copy, just watch how much movement they get. Nobody's low, nobody comes off the ball, nobody rolls their hips. They go up and run into a guy and hold onto him. Watch Iowa's offensive line. Watch Michigan's offensive line. Michigan got better last year. And Ohio State has the best kids for the most part, but they're still being coached right and coming off the ball nicely.
Q: Aside from the line, where does the offense need to improve?
Millen: Again, the whole thing comes down to the offensive line, in my opinion. So let's do it this way: Let's take the quarterback out of the equation, take the running backs out of the equation, and take the receivers and the tight ends and their experience out of the equation. Now put back just freshmen in all those spots, and now we're going to say, 'The offensive line is going to play really well this year.'
Penn State will be better than it was a year ago. That's the difference an offensive line makes. It's the whole game.
If you have a big, bruising running back, he's going to get you 6-7 yards instead of 3 yards. If you have a guy who can make you miss and you get him outside, then he'll get 10 yards or he'll break something. The quarterback is going to have time to throw. It's not like he won't get hit, but he'll get hit a lot less. And he's going to be protected in the pocket to be able to make good decisions. The offensive line just changes everything.
AllPennState is the place for Penn State news, opinion and perspective on the SI.com network. Publisher Mark Wogenrich has covered Penn State for more than 20 years, tracking three coaching staffs, three Big Ten titles and a catalog of great stories. Follow him on Twitter @MarkWogenrich. And consider subscribing (button's on the home page) for more great content across the SI.com network.