What a difference one week can make. On October 5th, Penn State turned in its least inspired effort of the BOB-era in a loss to Indiana. Seven days later, the Lions gave us a game we'll remember fondly for a decade, having "just beaten the Michigan Wolverines", who entered the contest unblemished and ranked #16. When's the last time an unranked Penn State squad beat a top 20 team? That would be 2007, week 8, when the Nittany Lions stomped on an overrated #18 Wisconsin squad, led by QB Allen Evridge and RB PJ Hill, 38-7, in Beaver Stadium. Bert's 2nd Badger team would finish 9-4 that season, before dropping to 7-6 in year three.
(No - I couldn't help myself with the Appalachian State reference, considering the placekicking and final result.)
How did the Lions win? More specifically, how did the Lions, seven days after watching the freaking Indiana Hoosier tailbacks rush 27 times for 153 yards (5.6 ypc), hold the Wolverine tailbacks to 28 yards on 30 carries (0.9 ypc)? That's an epic turnaround. BSD Film Room takes a look at the defensive snaps from the first half to see how it came about last Saturday afternoon.
Kill The Lights
From the coin flip, the intensity level caught your attention, from both sides. There was a lot of pad popping, jawing back and forth, and some extracurricular activities following most every whistle. Walk on defensive tackle Tyrone Smith destroyed a Michigan kick return blocker, and he and his victim made sure to exchange twitter handles after the whistle, face mask to face mask.
The early hit that everyone heard, if not saw immediately, came on Penn State's first punt return. Upback Von Walker, a true frosh walk on from Central Mountain, caught Michigan speedster Dennis Norfleet not looking - and wow, what a great hit to have broadcast on ABC/ESPN, and saved on 1.2million DVRs around the nation (below). Von graciously used only his shoulder, instead of the crown of his helmet - and Norfleet is still alive today as a result. That's sportsmanship.
That intensity is part of what made this game great. The fact that some bald, fat 50-year old dude in scarlet and gray sweatpants says Penn State and Michigan are not rivals, because the Wolverines can only have one rival, counts for absolutely nothing. The 20-year olds (these are both young teams) actually playing this game clearly felt otherwise, despite not playing each other for two years.
But with that protracted bit on intensity out of the way, let's get into the first half defensive snaps. Below is Michigan's first offensive play of the game. Al Borges is going to run Al Borges' plays, no matter what the prior 5 games on Penn State may have shown, nor what his own previous results might portend. Al, with this tackle-over, 2RB 3TE power I formation, is telling BOB that "game plan offense/defense" = dumb. John Butler disagrees, as we'll see later.
On this first snap from scrimmage, Michigan sticks left tackle Taylor Lewan as a TE on the line at the top of the shot below. Lewan must power forward into DE CJ Olaniyan, and kick him out. Backside "guard", who is actually RT Schofield, will pull and lead into the "C" gap. So will the motioning TE. And so will the fullback. That's 3 lead blockers thru the same hole, plus Lewan on the kickout, along with the actual playside T, G, and C. Penn State is in its base 4-3, with safety Adrian Amos dropped down on the weakside as an 8th man in the box.
In the shot below, Michigan's center ignores DT DaQuan Jones (labeled "1"). Jones isn't blocked by anyone, which I doubt is part of Borges' design. Jones ruins the play, but it was unlikely to go anywhere even if that wasn't the case. Olaniyan ("2") stands up Lewan a yard deep at the top of the screen, setting the edge. DT Kyle Baublitz ("3"), has stuffed both the left guard and the pulling Schofield, yielding no ground. SAM linebacker Nyeem Wartman and MLB Glenn Carson ("4") both hit the hole hard - really hard, blowing up the playside tackle (guard Kyle Kalis), as well as the TE, and the FB. Jones and Wartman stop Fitz Toussaint for a loss of 3 yards.
In its second series, following an interception of Hackenberg's wobbler (should've been a TD), Michigan returns with the tackle-over spiel. Lewan is on the end of the line at the bottom of the shot below. John Butler, though, sees the '23' personnel (2RB, 3TE) Michigan sent onto the field, and counters with his own heavy group. DaQuan Jones is your left defensive end. Sophomore Austin Johnson is your DT next to Jones. Freshman Brian Gaia is your 0-technique nose tackle. Baublitz is your third DT, on the weakside. And Michigan native Anthony Zettel is the standup DE/LB at the top of the screen. Safety Ryan Keiser has dropped strong side as a 9th man in the box.
Happy, happy. Joy, Joy. Michigan changed things up by trying the weakside of the formation. The 6'5" Baublitz, who had his best game as a Nittany Lion, got under Michigan's guard and drove him three yards deep off the snap of the ball, forcing Toussaint to jump cut as soon as he gets the handoff. Toussaint will try to bounce it wide, following his FB, but Zettel - who played his best game as a Nittany Lion - is already there, waiting, having beaten his block. Toussaint is dropped for another loss.
Now it's 3rd and 8 (below). QB Devin Gardner is in shotgun 2x2. Butler is playing man to the top of the screen, zone to the bottom, with 3-deep defenders. Gardner appears to have read this is as 2-deep man under coverage, thinking CB Jordan Lucas (over slot WR Drew Dileo on the bottom hash), and CB Trevor Williams (at the bottom of the shot, over WR Jeremy Gallon) are locked up one-on-one - and, that Williams is playing the softest man coverage you've ever seen. That's exactly what DC John Butler wants Gardner thinking.
Instead, Williams back pedals into his deep zone, inviting Gardner to throw the 10-yard hook to Gallon, while Lucas runs past Dileo, and undercuts the throw for an easy interception. Don't feel bad, though, Gardner - Matt Schaub did the same thing two weeks ago on Sunday night vs. the 49ers (reversed roles, but you get the idea).
It's 2nd and 9, following BOB's failed 4th down attempt from our own 33-yard line in the 1st quarter (hooray, coaching ballz). Michigan is still using the tackle-over big boy formation. But this time they're running play action off of it. Penn State is in its base 4-3, with safety Adrian Amos as an 8th defender in the box, looking like a 4th linebacker on the weakside of the formation.
I'd like to write that Penn State didn't bite on the play action. But we bit - hard. Gardner's at the top of his drop, and Wartman, Mike Hull, and Amos are just starting to retreat. Fortunately for Penn State, Michigan's tackle-over junk leaves a tight end trying to pass block DE Olaniyan (to Gardner's blindside), who, as a Michigan native slighted by RichRod, is playing his best game as a Nittany Lion (yes - repetitive theme). Olaniyan hits Gardner, and the ball falls incomplete. The other blue check marks highlight DaQuan Jones beating Kalis like a drum, as Schofield gave Kalis no help, choosing instead to block no one; Carson coming up the "A" gap untouched, and Austin Johnson shucking Michigan's center Glasgow as he sprints past Michigan's blissfully unaware guard Chris Bryant.
This (below) is another tackle-over abortion, though there are just two tight ends on the field (counting Lewan). In this one, Michigan uses an 8-man protection; Lewan and the other TE double DE Zettel, while Gardner play fakes to Toussaint, though Toussaint stays in to pick up any rushers coming through the weakside of the formation. Penn State is in its base 4-3 with its base man/zone hybrid coverage. Safety Malcolm Willis has dropped down to give the Lions an 8th man in the box. He's actually responsible for Toussaint out of the backfield, in man coverage.
But when Toussaint doesn't release into a pass route, Willis is allowed to pass rush. And, Toussaint seems surprised by this development. He whiffs on Willis, allowing the 5th year senior to tattoo Gardner in the lower back. Gardner - who overall played like a stud, by the way - manages to release the ball, though it flutters. WR Gallon, at the top left of the shot below, circles back to catch it, and then gets tackled by LB Obeng for a loss of one.
It's 3rd and a country mile (below). Michigan is in shotgun, 2x2 - their best offensive set by far. Penn State actually rushes six. There are a ton of squiggly lines below, but the most critical aspect is this: LB Carson is going to work a stunt with DE Deion Barnes. Carson is going to slant outside, towards the RT, while Barnes stutter steps before looping back inside of Carson. In such a stunt, you're trying to put the RG Kalis out of position to handle Barnes.
But even more critically with a mobile quarterback, LB Carson now has edge contain responsibilities. Barnes beats Kalis on the stunt, but it's actually DaQuan Jones - who went past the center unblocked (unbelievable) - who flushes Gardner first. Gardner peels out right; Carson takes a bad angle, as does Obeng, and Gardner inexplicably runs for 12 yards and a first down. "That's all Devin Gardner," exclaims Matt Millen. Indeed.
This shot below is also all Devin Gardner. Penn State is in 34. Standup DE/OLB Anthony Zettel is showing rush from the top of the screen, but will drop into zone. Our other standup DE/OLB - 5'10", 200lb Stephen Obeng - will bring the heat off the edge, along with safety Malcolm Willis. WR Gallon, at the top of the screen, will be running another 10-yard hook.
That's where Gardner looks the entire time. Michigan picks up the pass rush perfectly. Gardner - with blue line of sight to intended target Gallon - doesn't "see" the 6'5", 250lb Anthony Zettel. Gardner throws it, hitting Zettel in the face with the ball. Zettel makes a pretty catch, and returns the pill to the Michigan 20 yard line.
On the very next snap, with Penn State on offense at the UM 20, BOB plays a little game of gotcha with Michigan's RCB, Raymon Taylor (bonus Goodyear "blimp" view). TE Kyle Carter, split wide left, runs a hitch in front of Taylor, while in-line TE Jesse James releases from the line of scrimmage and bends outside on a "go".
If Taylor sits on Carter's hitch too tightly, he won't be able to recover in time to prevent James from catching the ball behind him, in his area of responsibility, the deep third. Of course, if Taylor does not sit on Carter's hitch, then Hackenberg has an easy completion for a gain of 8 yards or so.
In the shot below, Taylor realizes he's been fooled too late, falls down trying to recover, and James sneeks behind him for the touchdown. I'm a biased homer, but I like BOB's designs better than Al's.
Speaking of which - why not another power run, while we're at it? Butler puts the big boy personnel on the field to match up. Kyle Baublitz ("1") will not be cut off by a tight end; Brian Gaia ("2"), playing a 0-tech nose tackle - that is, head to head on the Michigan center - does not even get chipped by the Michigan center. Instead, the center leaves the backside guard out to dry, with a cutoff block he couldn't possibly make (and doesn't). Austin Johnson ("3") takes the Michigan double team and shoves it backwards a yard. Mike Hull (with arrow) hits the hole as hard as I've ever seen him hit it, blows up wth fullback, and tackles Toussaint for no gain. Oh yeah - DaQuan Jones, all 330lbs of him, can set an edge on anybody (bottom of the shot), which I think was a pretty cool adjustment by Butler, considering some of the troubles we've had with that in the first half of the season.
Here we go - Michigan is driving just before halftime. They have a critical 3rd and 5. Penn State is in nickle, with 4 down lineman and just 2 linebackers. Gardner starts in shotgun, but walks up to the line of scrimmage to change his protection, after seeing both PSU linebackers in the A and B gaps to his right. Gardner thinks he sees blitz, and tells his o-line to slide to their right off of the snap.
The O-line does as they are told. Unfortunately for Gardner, there are no blitzing linebackers. And worse, by sliding right, there is now no one available to block DE CJ Olaniyan, who comes unchecked from the blindside, then strips and sacks Gardner for his misjudgment, after - literally - pausing for a second, because he was confused as to why no one would block him, and probably worried he was being optioned by some funky new zone read. It's hilarious. DaQuan Jones recovers Gardner's fumble.
Hit The Lights
The rush defense improved for several reasons: a) Michigan telegraphed their intent, and did not care, nor did they care that big boy is something we can still play with only 61 scholarship players; b) John Butler took advantage of that; c) our D-line had some career performances, almost across the board (intensity); d) Michigan's O-line is young, and apparently unsure of themselves and/or their assignments at times; e) Devin Gardner "only" ran 24 times (for 121 yards); and, f) no WR screens, almost no hitches, and not even much shotgun spread QB draws/scrambles/zone-read. (Sweet).
So we weren't as gawd awful as we thought after Indiana. And now, despite choosing just one bad play to show above, we're not as great as we might feel this week, either (the first half of this maxim applies to you too, Michigan). But congratulations are in order, to the entire defense and John Butler. Awesome job fellas. You made my week.
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