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Penn State Pessimism grew a bit, following last week’s 31-7 thumping of Northwestern in Evanston. Why didn’t Saquon Barkley run for 8 trillion yards? How come Trace McSorley threw an incomplete pass? When are we going to block someone on the opposing defense for the first time ever? Difficult, probing questions.

Optimists – and there are still a few drunk on blue kool aid – immediately latched on to Head Bald Coach James Franklin’s postgame comment, to the effect of, “we held some things back for the second half of the season.” Sly as a fox, he saved all of the good plays for Michigan and Ohio State.

Who is right? Is the glass half full of kool aid, or half empty of crap? (mixed metaphor?) Whatever. Let’s take a look at the much maligned rush offense in this week’s Film Room.

Kill The Lights

Table O’ Runs at Northwestern

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Gif#– Down– To Go– Ball At– Result Play Call– JNW D– Pathetic Description
1 1 10 PSU 39 Barkley for 2 Draw 4-3 cover 3 (zone) Blocking is good. Igwebukwe closes quickly, Barkley could power for 4-ish, but jukes for extra, settles for 2.
2 2 8 PSU 41 Barkley for 8 Shovel Pass 4-3 cover 3 (zone) This is fine.
3 1 10 PSU 10 Barkley for 8 Split Zone 4-3 cover 3 (zone) More great blocking. Trap the DT instead of the DE.
4 3 1 PSU 19 Barkley (-3) Split Zone 4-3 cover 3 (zone) 2 TE (Holland and Pancoast). JNW zone blitz from 2TE side. Holland whiff, Bates pushed back, McGovern whiff. Tackle for loss.
5 2 8 JNW 38 McSorley (-3) Inverted Veer 4-3 MAN DL slant to playside. Playside DE crashes mesh, OLB has contain. All blowed up. Tackle for loss.
6 1 Goal JNW 7 Barkley (-4) Inverted Veer 4-3 MAN Read the unblocked DE. Gesicki whiff playside OLB, Gonzo whiff SS. Tackle for loss.
7 2 Goal JNW 10 Barkley (-2) RPO TE Stick 4-3 MAN JNW in tight man, Gesicki’s cover stays with him. DE crashes mesh but McSorley gives, Barkley immediately TFL’d.
8 1 Goal JNW 4 Barkley (-6) Draw 4-3 MAN JNW in tight man. Everyone singled, except Barkley, who is tagged by all 3 LBs. Draw, unblocked MLB tackles immediately.
9 2 18 PSU 31 Barkley for 4 Power O Counter 4-3 cover 3 (zone) JNW backed off. Barkley counter step. Combo NT, pull Bates to MLB, Barkley vs SS (8th man) to field side. Well blocked, nice fill by SS.
10 1 10 PSU 50 Barkley for 0 Split Zone 4-3 MAN 8-man box. Looks like Cover 3, but acts like man. Playside OLB plays run all the way. 6 blocking 8 becomes 6 blocking 7 with read. Unblocked OLB stops for no gain.
11 3 5 JNW 45 McSorley for 1 Toss Read 4-2 Nickle, Single high man Barkley’s “covered” by OLB so the pitch is burnt immediately. McSorley turns upfield a little too fast, DE recovers. Mahon/Wright doesn’t come off combo, never reaches MLB, who makes unblocked tackle.
12 1 10 PSU 34 McSorley for 2 Read Option 4-3 cover 3 (zone) Read option to short side vs 8-man box. DE tackles Barkley, McSorley keeps. Nice fill by SS.
13 1 Goal JNW 5 Stevens for 4 FB Dive 4-3 MAN Stevens as split back. McSorley gives to Stevens. Tommy crowd surfs a bit, comes down, bounces wide for 3 more yards.
14 2 Goal JNW 1 McSorley for 1 Inverted Veer 4-3 MAN DE tackles Barkley, McSorley keeps and dives for goalline. Submarined DT gets up in time to trip McSorley short of end zone.
15 1 10 PSU 49 Barkley (-7) Read Option 4-3 MAN 8-man box. Looks like Cover 3, but acts like man. McSorley pulls too late, fumble the mesh, Barkley grabs ball, gets TFL’d by DE and S.
16 1 10 JNW 45 McSorley for 5 Read Option 4-3 cover 3 (zone) Block DE, read the DT. DT takes Barkley, McSorley keeps. 1-on-1 vs SS, who fills nicely. Gain of 5.
17 3 17 PSU 42 Barkley for 8 Draw 4-3 Zone JNW backed off. 4-man rush. Barkley clears easily on draw, gets tackled well short of sticks.
18 1 10 PSU 29 Barkley for 3 Draw 4-3 cover 3 (zone) Draw to Barkley. Nice fill by SS. Gain of 3.
19 2 10 PSU 47 Barkley for 53 Power O Counter 4-3 cover 3 (zone) Same as Gif #9, but to boundary, away from SS (8th man). Barkley goes to the end zone.
20 2 18 PSU 35 Barkley for 2 Split Zone 4-3 zone blitz DE peels off rush to flat, recovers to tackle Barkley.
21 3 1 JNW 45 McSorley for 4 Lead Draw 4-3 MAN Barkley leads McSorley thru A gap. Gain of 4.
22 1 10 JNW 41 Barkley for 12 Inside zone 4-3 cover 3 (zone) Barkley bounces it wide, gains 12
23 2 Goal JNW 5 McSorley for 5 Lead Draw 4-3 MAN Sanders leads McSorley thru B gap. Touchdown.

The gigantic table of stuff immediately above represents all of the called rush attempts prior to Touchdown Tommy entering the game at QB. Each of the #’s in the left-most column is hyperlinked to a marvelous animated gif of the play being poorly described. Click a few. Pour over the details. Then jump back here.

TL;DR? Here’s the simplified version of that table:

  • when Northwestern played Cover 3/Zone, PSU ran 11 times for 102 yards.
  • when Northwestern played Cover 0/Man, PSU ran 12 times for (-5) yards.

That’s what the expensive, Big Data consulting firms call “a trend”. We’re giving it to you for free.

When Northwestern sold out to stop the run – risking getting toasted deep by matching our WRs/TEs 1-on-1 – they stuffed the run. When they played base, 7-man box, they got got on the ground.

How many times did JoeMo YOLO a deep ball against that Cover 0? One time, to Irvin Charles down the sideline, with the ball thrown out of bounds. How many times did JoeMo YOLO a Cover 3 beater? One time, to Brandon Polk on a corner route underneath Deandre Thompkins’ post, good for 23 yards.

How many times did JoeMo recognize the defense and use the meerkat to check the play at the line? Umm – we dunno, but it sure didn’t look like much. This was as vanilla as we’ve seen JoeMo since…last week, against Indiana. Other than a kind-of new Touchdown Tommy wrinkle (gif #13 above), this was “call a base play, run a base play”, all game long.

Hit The Lights

Plain old vanilla. Not even the “real” vanilla, but the artificial stuff, made from science, using words I can neither type nor pronounce. And our boys scored 31 points anyhow, which – if you can get past the many tackles for loss – is actually pretty impressive.

Is James Franklin sly like a fox? We’ll find out for sure these next three weeks. Our hunch heading into the bye is “yep”. JoeMo has a metric ton of Cover 0 and Cover 3 beaters. You may remember them from last year’s B1G championship game. JoeMo also runs a meerkat for a reason. Yet, he did (almost) none of those things Saturday.

Don’t bet on that being the case against Michigan. Hopefully the fancy pants stuff works when they dust it off in 10 days, and the “sly” thing gets confirmed.

Would’ve been cool to see 60 against Northwestern, though.

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