The addition of Cornell transfer Hunter Nourzad— a 2X All-Ivy League selection and an FCS All-American in 2021, is just more evidence that Penn State’s offensive line might be turning a corner.
Sure, the 2022 season is almost seven months away, but a unit that underperformed in 2021 is getting both short and long-term reinforcements.
Nourzad falls into the former category. He’s a veteran with 20 college starts under his belt who should have a good chance at starting right away. Nourzad’s presence will give Penn State’s depth chart a different look, so now that he’s in the fold, here’s what Penn State’s starting lineup might look like upfront.
CENTER: JUICE SCRUGGS
With Mike Miranda moving on, Penn State will need a new regular center in 2022, and Scruggs makes sense to fill that role. Although Scruggs was primarily a guard in 2021, he did take 176 snaps at center, according to Pro Football Focus, with 124 of them coming over the last two games of the season at Michigan State and in the Outback Bowl against Arkansas.
Scruggs was arguably Penn State’s best offensive lineman in 2021, posting an overall grade of 67.5, according to PFF. Although Scruggs will be playing out of position should he become the full-time center, he has enough experience playing there that Penn State fans shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
RIGHT GUARD: CAEDAN WALLACE
Of Penn State’s returning o-linemen, Wallace might be the most difficult to gauge.
Thus far, his career at Penn State has been a disappointment. He came to Happy Valley as a Top 100 recruit in 2019, but in two seasons with the Nittany Lions, Wallace has yet to blossom the way fans hoped he would. Last season, Wallace was given an overall grade of 51.2 from Pro Football Focus. That grade was only 46.3 in the run blocking department.
What’s intriguing, however, is that Wallace has been an offensive tackle throughout his time at Penn State. Some have speculated that Wallace– with his 6-foot-5, 300+ pound frame– would be better suited as an interior lineman. They might be getting their wish in 2022.
RIGHT TACKLE: LANDON TENGWALL
We haven’t seen much of what Penn State’s highest-rated recruit of the 2021 class can do, but what we’ve seen has been encouraging.
Tengwall only played in Penn State’s last three games during his true freshman season and held his own in all three. His best performance, according to PFF, came in his first start against Rutgers, where he had an 81.7 overall offensive grade.
The 6-foot-6 former four-star recruit from Onley, Maryland, figures to have a much more significant role in 2022, and Penn State fans have reason to be excited about what that might mean for the Nittany Lions offensive line.
LEFT GUARD: HUNTER NOURZAD
Ah, the inspiration behind this piece.
Nourzad is more than capable of playing tackle. That’s where he started all ten of Cornell’s games in 2021– seven on the right side, three on the left. He also started all ten games at right tackle in 2019.
But with Tengwall and Olu Fashanu (more on him later) both showing promise on the outside in 2021, as well as the idea that Wallace would be better suited to play guard, it’s realistic to think that Nourzad could be moving to the inside.
Nourzad’s overall grade of 72.7 would have been the highest amongst Penn State’s regular offensive linemen in 2021. It remains to see how he’d hold up against Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan compared to Princeton, Penn and Yale.
LEFT TACKLE: OLU FASHANU
Much like Tengwall, Fashanu didn’t get much playing time in 2021, only appearing in four games and not playing in any for nearly three months.
However, the Outback Bowl might have served as Fashanu’s coming-out party. Against Arkansas, Fashanu, starting in place of an injured Rasheed Walker, didn’t allow a single quarterback pressure and got an 87.5 grade in pass blocking from PFF. He and Tengwall combined to allow just one pressure in the Outback Bowl.
Fashanu, Nourzad, Tengwall, Wallace and Scruggs are all promising, and those five, along with Sal Wormley, who will be a redshirt junior coming back from injury, along with Bryce Effner, who is still on the roster as a redshirt senior, should make for a deeper group of offensive linemen than Penn State has seen in recent years. Penn State fans are excited for five-star Alex Birchmeier and company to sign and get to Happy Valley for 2023. Still, the more immediate future has promise as well.