Three games into a brand new season, it's difficult to not overheat when discussing Bob Shoop's Penn State defense. Zero 100-yard rushers allowed. Zero 300-yard passers allowed. Zero 100-yard receivers allowed. The Penn State defense looks, on occasion, suffocating. They've watched their offense cough up seven turnovers, a blocked FG, a big kick return, and a blocked punt. They've never led by more than two scores. Yet, they've allowed 55 yards rushing in the second half - in three games, combined. Six quarters of play....55 yards rushing!
A defense that lost its two most productive players to graduation (Jones, Carson), plus two more to the offensive line (Gaia, Dowrey), now yields 109 yards fewer per game than 2013, and it's total defense rank has climbed 38 spots - from 49th in 2013, to 11th nationally, at 272 yards/game. That, by the way, is the fewest yards allowed per game by a Penn State defense since 2009 (274/game), when the front seven boasted 7 pros: Odrick, Crawford, Still, Hill, Hull, Bowman, and Lee.
There's still a long way to go to measure up to the '08, '09, and '11 defenses, each of which finished top 20 nationally. But the '14 squad is off to a whale of a start. There's nothing more comforting when you hit the road for a tough conference game than having a tough, determined defense in your back pocket. Let's take a deeper look at this side of the ball.
Kill The Lights
The first thing that jumps out is that this defense has improved every week. Against UCF, the defense allowed 5 of 11 drives to travel 20+ yards (while forcing 5 four-and-outs). Facing Akron, with an accomplished QB, 5 more drives (out of 12) traveled 20+, including the Zips' final drive when the game was no longer in doubt. Seven times the Zips had 4 snaps or fewer. And against Rutgers, who had 14 different possessions, just three Knight drives traveled 20+ yards. The defense forced 10 - ten! - four and outs. (Ten!!!)
Below is a 2nd and 5 tube from late in the 3rd quarter. Penn State's offense just put its first points on the board. If the defense can get a stop and give them the ball back, maybe they can pick up where they left off, and add another score (they do, on both counts).
At the 3-second mark of the video below, Bob Shoop has the D in base alignment - a 43 "Under" front, with nose tackle Austin Johnson towards the strong (field) side of the Rutgers formation, and the secondary showing base "quarters" coverage, with both safeties, Amos and Keiser, 12 - 15 yards deep near the hashes.
One second later, that look changes. Deion Barnes stands up, and moves to a "wide 9", outside of the Rutgers tight end. Anthony Zettel bumps out to a "5" technique, heads up on the Knights' right tackle. And Brandon Bell shows blitz in the right guard's face.
At the snap, Bell blitzes - with purpose, as he always does - and locks up the guard. Zettel jab steps at the tackle, then loops inside of Bell on a stunt. The Rutgers right tackle, trying to follow Zettel or at least trade off with his guard for Bell, completely ignores Deion Barnes, who comes off the edge unblocked.
Gary Nova can barely get his feet set off a 3-step drop before he has to fire a pass. And the unsung, best part of the play, is Ryan Keiser, running step for step with Rutgers' pre-season All Big Ten tight end, Tyler Kroft, twenty yards down the seam. If Nova's pass was anymore accurate, Keiser might pick it off.
Beyond the blitzes, and zone blitzes, and multiple fronts, and shifts, and stunts - beyond all of the Bob Shoop schematic magic, it's clear that he and his staff have taught their scheme very well. The players understand the schemes, know their responsibilities, and are playing fast. Below is Rutgers' first snap coming out of halftime. It's a run off tackle for a loss of a yard.
Here's what's great about it - everyone does his job. Zettel, of course, beats the right guard like a drum, and penetrates 5 yards upfield. The guard is beaten so badly that he turns around and chases after Zettel, but misses him a second time. Deion Barnes drives the TE a yard deep, does not get hooked, and strings the play out. Austin Johnson keeps his feet and pursues down the line of scrimmage, along with CJ Olaniyan.
Nyeem Wartman...wow. He moves like a PSU linebacker off the snap, beats the FB's crackback block, and then meets the RB in the hole behind the line of scrimmage. Ryan Keiser sneaks up to the line pre-snap, dodges the pulling lineman, and forces the RB back into Wartman. No where to go - great team defense.
Here's another run. Rutgers gets a couple of better blocks on this one - except for Anthony Zettel, who again trashes the Rutgers right guard on national TV. Beats him so badly that the guard can't even successfully hold Zettel, and falls down.
While we're outting Rutgers linemen, let's share the wealth. Here's Rutgers' left guard getting smoked by Zettel's spin move that is just plain dirty. BTN's Glen Mason diagrammed it with a simple yellow circle on the telestrator, and then said simply, "wow". Indeed, Glen.
|Defense Total||57||11||46||Offense Total||56||39||17|
Hit The Lights
That was a great college game Saturday night. It would have been a lot less pleasing if we didn't have a defense that forced 5 turnovers and 10 four-and-outs. Shoop has them firing off in his scheme already, and that's a great thing to take on the road. Let's see if they can take another step forward this week at home, versus UMass.