PSU vs. Michigan - drive charts


Let’s get excited for the upcoming Northwestern game by revisiting our offensive explosion against Michigan!

(Our stats against Minnesota are in parentheses)

(1) Average pass attempt length --- 10.5 yards (11.6). I’m starting to notice how predictable our offense is in terms of length of plays. This is in no way a knock on the coaching staff, it probably applies to every football team.  I think it just results from calling plays out of a playbook that are drawn up ahead of time. It makes perfect sense really. You call a mix of plays over a game, some of which are designed to go deep and some of which are designed to go short, and you mix them up to keep the defense guessing.

(2) Average completion length --- 7.8 yards (7.6). Not surprising really. This is also starting to converge to about 8.0, which again makes sense. It should be lower than your average pass attempt length, but because we’re bound by 0 at the bottom end and nothing up top, you’d expect to be a lot closer to average than to 0.

 (3) Average YAC per completion --- 7.2 yards (4.4). Yes! My favorite stat of the week comes through! We had good YAC this week because of our ability (or Michigan’s lack thereof) to execute screens, RB out of the backfield, and crossing routes. This was where the bulk of our 3rd down completions originated as well. Royster out of the backfield, Suhey out of the backfield, Brackett crossing from one side to the other, all of these plays were consistently successful as Michigan had no one in the area after the catch was made. I would say whichever part of the defense is responsible for coverage in this area (linebackers?) was their biggest deficiency.

(4) Percent thrown to the side of the field (conservative) --- 79% (82). Also starting to converge to roughly 80%. Not surprising again, as probably 80% of the plays in the playbook are run to the outside, which manifests itself in the gametime playcalls.

(5) Completion % for attempts under 10 yards --- 75% (85). Solid. This number improves dramatically when you’re throwing screens and short passes to your RB’s coming out of the backfield. Like everyone has said, McGloin took what the defense was giving him, and took it well. I’d take 75% here any day.

(6) Completion % for attempts 10 yards and over --- 38% (40). Three weeks in a row at 40% (plus or minus 2%).Definitely going to look into turning this into a money making venture somehow.

(7) Yards per playaction pass attempt --- 7.8 yards (11.7).

(8) Yards per standard pass attempt --- 7.8 yards (6.1). Ask and you shall receive. Last week I said "tighter grouping between PA and standard pass attempts. That's comforting. I'd prefer to see solid execution on both, rather than significantly better on one or the other." Well, I should say identical results is tight. Solid execution all around, very pleased. I will also add that we chose to go standard, or not playaction, on 8 of 9 third down passing attempts. I don’t know if it would help if the defense knew that in advance, but if it does help, SHHHHHHH, don’t  tell anyone.

(9) Yards per shotgun pass attempt – 20 yards (4.6). 

(10) Yards per under center pass attempt – 7.4 yards (7.9). JuniataMan suggested last week that the shotgun facilitates shorter passes because there is no dropback time and you can read/release faster. I was on board with that after reading his comment. I don’t think this week can combat that because we only put McGloin in the shotgun once. It was a 20 yard touchdown to Zug, but we can’t take much away from that statistically.

(11) Overall rushing playcall % - 61% (51). If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. What a great feeling to just be gashing Michigan’s defense 10 yards at a time. I never thought a 10 yard running play could make me feel better than a 30 yard passing play, but there is something about the insult to injury that comes with beating a team with the running game. I guess after being abused for a while now, it feels good to do some abusing. This was pretty much Penn State vs. Illinois, except this time around we were Illinois.

(12) Rush % in own half of field - 50% (55).

(13) Rush % in opposing half of field - 66% (49). I’ll give the coaching staff the benefit of the doubt here since the run game was working. Also skewed by the fact that we were running it over and over towards the end of the game to kill the clock. 

(14) Average rush yards outside tackles – 4.0 yards (-1.0).

(15) Average rush yards inside tackles – 4.8 yards (6.2). For the second week in a row, the inside the tackles stuff was working better than the outside the tackles stuff. It was really nice to see those Royster iso’s going for 10 and 12 yards, instead of 1 and 2 yards. I guess that’s what the coaching staff has in mind when they call them. The real test will be if the offensive line can push around Ohio State the same way they did Minnesota and Michigan (I’m not gonna hold my breath).

(16) Percent of RB iso's - 31% (21). While I’m generally hoping this statistic goes to zero, if we continue to destroy teams up the middle, I’m all in favor of calling it every time. I’m thinking we’ll see this playcall won’t work against the better defenses in the big ten and we’ll have to get more creative. This time around, I loved almost everyone of our RB iso’s.


That was an incredibly fun game to watch and has been unbelievably satisfying throughout this entire week. It was a much needed shot of adrenaline for our expectations for this season (and beyond).

As great as it was to watch the game, and as great as it was to savor the victory this entire week, I think we need to do a quick reality check to keep our expectations in line. Remember, as Joe Paterno famously says, you’re never as bad as you think you are after a loss, and you’re never as good as you think you are after a win. We’ve been reassuring ourselves after our losses, so we need to (un-reassure?) do the same exercise when we win.

Let me tell you a quick anecdote about yours truly, golfinn3. Golfinn3 is an avid poker player, and thus draws analogies between poker/life whenever possible. He must deal with the ups and downs of playing a game where there is a fair amount of luck in the short term, but skill determines who prevails in the long run. Even the best poker players can put themselves in position to succeed over and over again, get the money in the middle with the best hand, but they don’t always win every hand. Even if you were all in with pocket aces every hand, you’d expect to win about 80% of the time. If you won every hand, you’d feel you played well, but also ran above expectation.

Penn State won every single hand on Saturday against Michigan. We can’t fault the players or the coaching staff because they seemed to do everything right, but they definitely performed above expectation. We literally got all the breaks: converting a ridiculous number of 3rd downs, Michigan fumbling the opening snap thus entering 2 and 10 on the opening drive, Michigan fumbling a kickoff out of bounds at the 2, Royster stopped in the backfield on 4 and 1 and somehow gets two more yards, our longest pass play on the day to Moye could easily have been pick 6’ed, Suhey fumbled and we recovered, Royster fumbled but it went out of bounds, we convert our first fake field goal called in probably 40 years, and perhaps the most representative play warrants a new sentence. Up 38 to 31 and needing a long drive, Chaz Powell is returning the kickoff up the right side and fumbles just before going out of bounds. Not only does the fumble harmlessly carry out of bounds, but we get a very questionable unnecessary roughness call. A big time swing in possible outcomes that puts us in Michigan territory to seal the game.

While I’m thrilled with the outcome, we do need to be realistic that things are not going to go this smoothly all the time in the future. We played about as well on offense as we could ever hope to play, and we still were in a nail biter down to the end. So, when we next lose a game, can we please keep a level head and not project perpetual fail into the future, the same way we’re shouldn’t predict perpetual dynasty now?

*Notes about data. (1) Pass length is the ball through the air distance. A 10 yard screen would be pass length of zero, with YAC of 10. (2) When sacked, I guessed whether he was trying to throw to the side or middle.





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