Last Saturday, in a monsoon vs. Kent State, Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg threw 35 times. He completed just 13 attempts for 176 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. That's 37% complete - the dyslexic version of Hack's 72% completion percentage through the first three games.
Bill O'Brien said after the game that he shouldn't have called 35 passes in a monsoon. "I'd have booed myself," stated BOB, in reference to calling three straight passes in the 3rd quarter, when the run couldn't be stopped. Clearly, BOB enjoys hyperbole as much as the rest of us.
But cool shared traits aside, the inevitable question exiting the Kent State game was, 'what caused all those incompletions?' And, as our man BFlip phrased it: 'was there a particular matchup that looked appealing on all those fades to Allen Robinson? Or, was it simply a case of, 'Robinson's really good, so why not?' BSD Film Room looked at 34 of 35 Hackenberg pass attempts from Saturday in an attempt to draw wild, incoherent conclusions, and then broadcast them on the innernets for thousands to consume. Irresponsibility is not just our pleasure, it's our duty.
Kill The Lights
It's 1st and 10 from the PSU 17. Penn State comes out in a 2x2, one back formation. The routes are drawn in yellow. The orange indicates the zones and drop responsibilities of Kent State's defenders, out of their 34 Cover 2 set.
Of course, at the snap, Kent State doesn't want it to look like Cover 2 - they're trying to show Cover 1, with each of Penn State's 4 receivers locked up in man coverage and one deep safety in the middle of the field. But at the snap, the safety in the center of the hashes rotates to his left, taking the deep half to the top of the screen. And the other KSU safety, labeled 1 below, drops to the opposite deep half. All of the underneath defenders take zones. Of particular note, the cornerbacks - lined up over the wideouts split, uh, out wide - take the flats to either side. Hackenberg takes the snap, drops back, and checks down to TE Jesse James (with asterisk, below) into the flat. James is crunched immediately, and held to a gain of just four yards. It worked - but probably isn't the throw we want to make in that situation, as the corner at the top was a step or two from a pick six.
On 3rd and 12, after a stuffed run on 2nd down and RT Adam Gress false start, BOB dials up a HB screen to BIll Belton. Ty Howle and John Urschel give a hit off the snap, then leak out to their right. Belton steps up in a blitz pickup fake, turns around, and has the ball go through his hands and skip off the top of his helmet. Incomplete.
Look at all the lines! Kent State wants to do something really crazy on defense, but BOB's 3x2, empty backfield formation makes it difficult to disguise the all-man, Cover 0 (no deep safeties), tricky blitz package. The corner (labeled "1") over Allen Robinson (with asterisk) comes on a blitz. The guy who covers Robinson mano-a-mano? He's the safety currently on the opposite hash, with the "2" label. Does this bother Hack? No, it does not. Hack reads the blitz, throws where the blitzer comes from, and completes a 12-yard pickup to Robinson in the flat. First down.
It's 2nd and 6 from the 50, with Kent in your basic Cover 1, man coverage with a single deep safety. Hackenberg sees Allen Robinson at the top of the shot below, drops back, and fires a beauty of a throw down the right sideline. It falls about one cubit beyond the diving Robinson's hands. Incomplete. This is not the last "go" or "fade" or "9" or "deep ball" we'll see today, versus man coverage on the outside, nor the last incompletion.
So now it's 3rd and 6 - the dreaded 3rd down. Kent brings pressure with a zone blitz, dropping DEs into the slant lanes, and locking everyone else up in man coverage, with zero deep safeties. Belton slides over to Hack's right after the snap to take the OLB coming free off the edge. Hack has 6 to block 5, but he's still hurried, throwing high and outside to TE Carter running the out from the near right slot. Incomplete. Punt.
A quick side note about protection. The 34 is a bit of a pain in the neck because, with 3 down lineman and 4 linebackers, which "5" defenders should the O-line take? Usually, you see the OL take the 3 DL and the 2 standup OLBs - you see it every Sunday in the NFL. Below, though, and through most of the first half snaps, BOB chose to have our 5 OL slide left, leaving the standup OLB outside of our right tackle for either a TE, FB, RB, or some combination of those. Draw from that what you will.
It's 1st and 10 from the PSU 13 - the start of drive #3. This drive ends in a TD, by the way. It starts off with a bang. Kent State shows what would appear to be the old Cover 1, single high safety. But I'm not really sure what it is, because it seems more like a blown coverage. The CB over Brandon Felder, split wide at the top of the shot below, plays the flat. The safety behind him, standing on the 20-yard line and aligned over TE Carter in the right slot, runs deep with Felder. That leaves Carter uncovered on the skinny post, because the single high safety in the middle of the field jumps all over Robinson's short crossing route. Hack makes sense of it all in 2 seconds better than I can in 20 minutes, and hits Carter in the seam for a gain of 29 yards, before getting tackled from behind by the RILB, who bit like a pit bull on the play action fake before turning and sprinting downfield. First down.
More Cover 1, single high safety with Allen Robinson manned up on the outside? Why not throw a back shoulder fade to the Big Ten's best receiver? This might have been a quick line check - or maybe I'm just hoping it is, because Felder and TE Kyle Carter kinda/sorta just jog into each other, aimlessly. In any event, Hack throws a pretty ball, and Robinson pulls it in for a gain of 18. Another first down, on the way to the end zone.
For pass attempt 8, we get another 2x2 first down pass versus Cover 1. Hack slings it to Felder in the left slot on a quick out, for a gain of 3 yards. This was not the best route I've ever seen Brandon Felder run. It was less than crisp, and he was tackled by the 5'10", 200lb sophomore safety Jordan Italiano immediately. But, what the hell do I know? Maybe that's the play design.
Yes, we're still on the 3rd possession. This is a WR screen to Robinson. It's a sweet little play, and we've seen the "go" off of this same setup (vs. Syracuse). I'd like to give a little shout out to BOB and RG John Urschel, for the good sense to have the backside guard sneak out and turn around, to pick off any defender from chasing down Robinson from behind. Very nice.
Oh yeah - this one was completed for a gain of 13, and a 1st and Goal to go.
It's 3rd down - and worse, it's GOAL TO GO. The horror!
This is a very, very slick little play design by BOB, versus Kent's Cover 1. Felder runs off his corner towards the seam. TE Jesse James takes an outside release and just happens to bump into the MLB, who needs to cover RB Bill Belton. Belton releases out of the backfield on an out and up, and he is wide open. Hack hits him. Touchdown. Thing of beauty.
Quick Off Topic Defensive Play
Speaking of beautiful play designs, how about this one below from DC John Butler? It's a 34, Cover 2, all zone. Kent State keeps 7 in to pass protect, but S Adrian Amos comes completely free off the edge on a blitz. And the "single high safety" in center field, BSD MVP Ryan Keiser, is actually a "deep half" safety, and not a center fielder. Keiser rotates to his left off the snap. Amos scares the crap out of the Kent QB, who lobs a duck to the receiver at the bottom of the screen. Keiser jumps the route, with nothing but green in front of him. Unfortunately, Ryan let this one through his hands (though, he made up for it by making a harder catch later in the game). In any event - cool play from John Butler. Really like what he's doing as DC.
Back to the pass attempts. It's the 4th Penn State drive of the game, and our boys are getting a nicely disguised Cover 3 zone. Lots of orange on there - sorry about that. Hopefully you can see the "zones", and who drops where before you go blind.
Fortunately, it all amounts to nothing for the Golden Flashers. Brandon Felder runs a great route from his split wide left spot. He pulls off a nice square in, or dig, for a gain of 17 and a first down. Pretty throw from Hack, by the way, hitting Felder in the hole in the zone.
This is another Cover 3 from Kent State. Hack takes his drop, and throws a fade to Felder (with the asterisk) split wide right. It's thrown over Felder's outside shoulder, as it should be - pretty ball. Felder struggles to adjust, though, and ends up kinda/sorta backpedaling the last step or two, rather than bending outside while running forward. Incomplete.
Tom Brady's run this play 1,000 times. Brady takes the snap, fakes the run, whips around and fires a dart to some receiver who sneaks inside of his man and behind the ILBs, who bite on the play fake. Touchdown.
In this case, Hack does the same, but Robinson doesn't cross the face of his man on the slant, and the ILBs don't bite hard enough on the play action. Hack comes off of Robinson, and dumps it to TE Jesse James in the flat. It's still a gain of 4 and a 1st down, but not the TD we want. Smart football by Hack, because the slant wasn't there.
Look at that. Inviting, isn't it? The talented Allen Robinson is left in 1-on-1 coverage at the top of the screen. The fade's tough to defend here, too. It could be to the corner of the end zone; it could be a fade stop; Robinson could jab inside on a slant before breaking it out. In this instance, Robinson runs to the corner. Hack needs to put a little more air under this one. The Kent State corner breaks it up. Incomplete.
From here on out, the BTN camera crew appear to have operated under threat of death if they did not zoom in so that less than half the field would be in view at the snap. That's why you get 10 PSU players in this shot, and just 9 Kent State Flashers. This is PSU's 5th possession. Hack takes the snap versus Cover 1 on 1st down, and fires complete to TE James on the cross for 11 yards.
Yes - Cover 1 man, again. And it's another "go" route, this time to true frosh Richy Anderson in the slot, versus a KSU safety. This pass was "overthrown" by about 10 yards, and Anderson was covered - and, possibly, pushed out of bounds, making him ineligible anyhow. Overthrown is in quotes, because if Hack is Tom Brady instead of a true frosh, we say he smartly threw the ball away. Incomplete.
This looked like Cover 3 zone. It doesn't matter, because it's a WR screen to Robinson. The ball goes through his hands, incomplete. Punt. I'm only mentioning the coverage to note that Kent changed it up every now and then.
No screen shot for this one. Oops. It's Penn State's 6th drive. Here are my notes, though: is that cover 4? Hack steps up, throws incomplete to Anderson on seam route. It wasn't a catchable ball, but since he's backed up in his own end zone and got hurried, it's probably a throw away to avoid the safety or pick.
It's the dreaded 3rd down. There's a white dot at the bottom of the screen, with a yellow "1" next to it. That's Brandon Felder. He runs a curl, and Hack hits him for a first down. The curl is possible because Anderson ("2") runs coverage off with a corner route, and Kyle Carter ("3") occupies the flat defender with, uh, a flat route. Nice work, boys.
We're not in our own end zone, which is nice. It's also fortunate, since RT Gress gets beaten off the snap. His man flushes Hack, who throws on the run to Carter in the flat / throws it away, low and outside. Incomplete.
It's 3rd and 13, because first and second down stunk. With just a minute before halftime, and in the shadow of his own end zone, BOB plays it safe with a WR screen to Robinson. Hack is in shotgun for this one. He has to catch the snap, turn, and fire the ball at Robinson - without wasting time to get the laces. Just catch it, and sling it. No laces, in a monsoon. The result is not pretty. Happily, though, the ball is air mailed about 10 feet over Robinson's head, into the sideline. Incomplete. Punt.
Second Verse, Worse Than The First
And that's the first half. Hack started 9 of 14, for 116 yards and a TD in the first four possessions. Adding in the last two possessions left him at 11 of 21, for 142 yards and the same TD, after 30 minutes and 12 inches of rain.
While we're in intermission, let's take another quick look at a fantastic defensive development. May I humbly present, the Ben Kline neck roll. Somewhere out there, Trey Bauer and Shane Conlan are nodding approvingly.
This is another fade attempt to Robinson versus man coverage with no safety help. It was a wildly popular, if unsuccessful, throw/route on the day. This one fails because of a miscommunication between Hack and Robinson. If I had all-22 end zone tape, I'd probably be able to see Robinson breaking the route off before realizing Hack is throwing the fade. I don't, so I can only tell you that the ball fell harmlessly 15 yards beyond Robinson, because the nation's leader in deep balls completed (entering week 4), with a 71% completion percentage to boot, suddenly overthrows receivers by 15 yards for no reason other than Chuck Long says so.
Who drew this pile of crap below? Why not just fill the whole screen with orange while I'm at it? Geez.
In any event, it's the vaunted Cover 3 zone. TE Jesse James runs an arrow route from the near slot. Hack seems to think he's going to hook up in the hole - James keeps running. The ball ends up behind James, and incomplete.
Speculate like a moron? Sure, I can do that. Kent is showing Cover 1 man pre-snap, which they've been running most of the day. But they actually run Cover 3 zone. Generally speaking, you run (away) from man, but hook up in the zone holes. Generally speaking, that is. James reads man, Hack reads zone? Seems reasonable.
No mistaking this coverage (it's 1 single high safety man). Penn State keeps 7 in to block. Kent State, eventually, sends 7 rushers. Hack and/or Howle change protection at the line, and Belton shifts from Hack's left to Hack's right. There's still pressure on Hack, but he fires complete to Anderson in the slot on the out route. He comes up 1-yard short of the 1st down.
This is 4th down, still the first drive for Penn State after the break. TE Carter runs a corner route, picking off WR Robinson's cover in the process (it's pretty). Robinson stutters off his release to time it correctly, then hooks up just past the sticks. Hack delivers the ball. Then something strange happens that I can't decipher via BTN replay. Robinson kind of "blips", like he was tasered from behind, or, as though a couple of packets got dropped from the fiber optics. Who knows? We can probably rule out the taser, but the ball bounces off Robinson's back shoulder, and falls incomplete. On the sideline, BOB talks to Hack. Hack dries his hands with a soaked towel. Turnover on downs.
This is play action roll out. Hack completes a pretty comeback to Robinson on the sideline on the run. Robinson touches one toe down in bounds, but is ruled out. It goes to review, where Chuck Long declares it a catch. But, "the play calls as stands", because video review is only for people with vision, and Big Ten video reviewers are born without sight, by conference mandate. Video review is just a charade for potty breaks and Case IH commercials.
Hey, another fade route to Allen Robinson who has man coverage on the outside. Hack takes the snap and looks to his right, trying to draw off any safeties before coming back left to A-Rob. Robinson is well covered by the Kent CB, who's cruising comfortably in trail technique on Robinson's inside hip. The CB gets his head around, sees the back shoulder-ish throw, and makes the interception. Nice defensively play.
After an Herr Keiser interception, Penn State is back in business. This is Cover 1 man. Hack executes the play action fake, and then checks down to FB Pat Zerbe in the flat. Hack gets hit as he throws by LT Donovan Smith's man, and the ball falls incomplete.
Pressure? Oh, we're pissed off now. This is the rarely witnessed, true "max protect", one-man route. That man is Allen Robinson, at the top of the shot below. He is going to run the big boy pants, 18-yard comeback (yeah, it's drawn as 12 - trust me, though). Christian Hackenberg is going to take a seven step drop, and fire an 18-yard comeback from the far hash. Unfortunately, after 300 successive fade routes, the Kent CB still covers the comeback. Go figure. Since no one else even ran a route, Hack throws it short and un-catchable.
From max protect, to no protect. This is a 3x2 spread. Kent State runs an E-T (defensive End - defensive Tackle) stunt that RT Gary Gilliam isn't quite able to handle. Hack is flushed from the pocket and throws the ball away.
The ESPN play-by-play records this one as, "incomplete to Robinson". BTN replay skipped over the 3rd touchdown of the game, missing the entire Penn State possession. Ergo, there is no pass attempt 31 info following the completion of this sentence. Thanks, Delany.
I may have typed this before, but in case I haven't, you are looking live...at Cover 1 man and a fade route, this time to WR Geno Lewis. Lewis beats CB#11 by a step and half. He's in the end zone, but the ball is a just a touch short. The ball hits Lewis in the hands, at his waist. And the burnt CB #11 flails, happily slapping the ball out of Lewis' hands. Incomplete. And a damn shame.
This is not Cover 1. It's the even cooler Cover 0. Hack throws another fade to Robinson. This one has more air under it. But the DB breaks it up. The DB, in this case, is WR Robinson, who comes over the back of the Kent Flasher to knock the ball away, incomplete.
It's 3rd and 2 - how about a little play action? The TE on the line at the bottom of the shot is District III's Adam Breneman. He executes an outstanding down block fake before slipping into the flat. Hack fakes to the RB before rolling out on a naked bootleg. He immediately has a DE in his face, but completes the pass to Breneman, who rumbles for 29 yards and a FIRST DOWN.
If you've made it this far, then you are one sick individual. Or, you are bored out of your mind at work. Both? Whatever. But I ask you this: what is the one play you'd like to see diagrammed here? The man-on-man, end zone fade? You're in luck. This one is against a backup corner for Kent State, because #14 went out with an injury just a few snaps ago. The new guy is matched up with All Big Ten 1st teamer Allen Robinson. The new guy face guards Robinson, sticks his hand up, and happens to knock the ball away. Incomplete.
Hit The Lights For Crying Out Loud
What caused all of those completions? I think we've covered this one. Let's move on. Please.
Why throw so many fades (to Allen Robinson)? There were 10 fades thrown. The matchup did look good. Every attempt was against man coverage with no safety help. You'd tend to think that our guys would win those more often than not. For all of the reasons noted above, they only won once, and were picked off once. So...it's an area we need to improve. In the meantime, credit Kent State for great play on the outside. The two corners (a SR and a JR) played their technique very well, always keeping inside leverage, always using the sideline as an extra defender, and, usually, keeping a solid trail hip position.
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