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BSD Film Room: The Run Game

BSD takes a look at Penn State's rushing offense in this week's Film Room.

Rob Christy-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

After the Navy game, LionInTheWeeds wrote the BSD Film Room with a question:

Can you do an analysis on the way we approach the running game for the next one? Especially on second down, I’m interested to see what is happening that is restricting Penn State from having a player with over 5 yards per carry.

It's important to note that LitW's question came after the Navy game, and before Temple and Illinois. Because to that point in the season, Penn State had: 1) deferred its choice to run against Ohio; 2) gotten royally stuffed by UVa; and 3) not possessed the ball much against Navy.

So in taking on LitW's challenge, BSD Film Room first mentally generalized the question into "what's up wit h the running game?" and completely ignored/forgot about the "especially on second down" part. Didn't even notice it until I just went fishing for it to quote it in this write up. Maybe Mrs. Film Room is right when she says I don't listen? I don't know. Whatever. Sorry, dude.

Back to the (slightly modified) topic at hand: what's up with the Penn State ground game? Film Room thought it wise to lay out the case facts with.....uh, the facts (stats). So let's dig into the stats. As a quick disclaimer: college stats subtract sack yardage from rushes. And who really cares about a QBs rushing numbers when you don't have a rushing QB? So all of the stats that follow are for running backs only.

First up, how many rushes and yards - by backs - against each of the first 5 opponents?


And second, how have each of the backs done? (Hey, Film Room remembered the <5.0 ypc part of the question).


A back that carries for 2, 0, and 52 yards has an 18.0 ypc average, while one who goes for 7, 7, and 7 has a....wait for it....7 ypc average (thanks STAT100 GA!). So beyond just rushes, yards and average, I wanted to take a look at the longest run for each back. And that gave us our first bad news: no Penn State back has had a carry for 20+ yards in the first five games. Not one single explosive run play in 156 attempts.

Big runs help an average. Stuffed runs kill an average. So I also took a look at how often a back gained two or fewer yards. The numbers in the table above include goal line - so, they're getting penalized a bit for a 1-yard TD run. But the other point that jumps out is that every back gets stuffed at least 30% of the time. Day, who had the bulk of his carries in the UVa game, has been stuffed 57% of the time.

That speaks to the 'Y U NO GAIN 5ypc?' aspect - at least from a math perspective. How about the approach aspect? Let's first take a look at rushes by quarter:


That's a pretty even distribution. Now let's take a look at the rushes by down:


Yes, you're reading that correctly: seven rushes on 3rd down through the first 5 games by running backs. Hello, tendency. Nice to meet you. And why are we getting stuffed on second down at a 48% clip, but only 30% on first down? Yeah, I don't know. Like I wrote above, I 'forgot' that part of the question.

But to make up for forgetting that aspect, I went and answered something you didn't ask: has the approach changed over the first five games? Why yes, I believe it has. Take a look at the quarterly rushes by opponent in the table below:


Through the first three games, we ran the ball 29 times in the second half. But in the last two games - when our backs have totaled 162 and 202 yards, respectively - we rushed 45 times. As BO'B's approach to the running game has evolved - more second half, kick your ass runs - the squad has improved its rushing output.

Nice Math, Dumbass. But What's It All Mean?

Hey, it's just now moving into October. We still have two months of the season to go. But I think we can make a few educated hypotheses out of these fancy numbers:

1) A fellow by the name of Joe Paterno differentiated good backs from great backs (as runners) by their ability to make the safety miss. One safety is often un-blocked in most traditional run designs. So to pop a big run, the back has got to make the safety-man miss.

Zordich, Zwinak and Dukes aren't looking to make many guys miss. They are looking to truck. Belton and Day have yet to reach 50 career carries - and neither has seen the field all that much after the first two games due to injury. All of that not withstanding, using Joe's barometer, we don't have any consistently 'great' backs. Yet. We have three bruisers, and two 'good, young backs'. And yes, it feels great to write "good, young backs".

2) We get stuffed because we're inconsistent up front. Excuses are for losers, and our guys aren't making any. But I'll mention a few things on their behalf: a) new staff; b) new playbook; c) four new starters plus four more rotating in; d) just 17 career starts coming into the season; e) more zone than in the past; f) less man/power than in the past. Anything else we can pile on to that? Yes: g) good, but young, backs.

3) Running in the second half is easier than running in the first half. Temple and Illinois both have better - or at least in Illinois' case, more talented - fronts than Ohio and Navy, yet our rushing output has doubled. Passing early for points, and rushing late to finish is a winning trend.

4) Bill O'Brien has been a head coach for five games. I'm so jacked about this team and this staff that it sounds dumb even writing that - as in, "that's hard to believe". But if I was to take anything away from the first five games, it would be that BO'B has settled in. Ohio, the first game, got away from us. Everything was new, tons of emotion, blah, blah. Coming out of that game, BO'B told himself to run the f***'ing football - and damn if he didn't listen to himself against UVa. But by the third game, against Navy - and I wrote this into the postgame wrapup - everybody suddenly decided to settle down, forget all the bullshit, and go play ball. I don't know how or why. But it was one hell of a coaching moment, because it changed the season.

Kill The Lights

It isn't a Film Room without some film. So here are two videos. The first one shows two zone runs. It actually looks like the same play, just to different sides. The first run works for seven yards - and we might have left a few yards on the table to the outside. The second run derps. Same drive, by the way. No fancy explanation except we have to get more consistent.

This second clip is from the second half. BO'B is in his NASCAR (hurry-up) mode. I pulled these because why the hell not? It is fun watching Zwinak smash into mentally tired DB's and fall forward for 2 extra yards after every carry.

Have a question for Film Room that we can partially listen to? Put it in the comments, dude.

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