Penn State traveled to Ireland and came away with a hard fought, last second victory over Central Florida, 26-24. UCF was the worst type of opponent for an opener. They're well coached by a veteran staff. They're experienced, and accustomed to winning. They won't throw in the towel just because they fall behind by two scores. They have some pro-level talent on both sides of the ball. And, worst of all, they were #26 in the preseason AP poll, which means the PSU players and staff won't get the same bankable voter credit that they would if UCF had sported a number next to their name during the broadcast.
Irrespective of that, though, James Franklin must be excited. He leaves Ireland with a win, 511 yards of offense, a defense that surrendered just 24 rushing yards on 29 attempts (featuring a mobile QB in the second half), and a ton of teachable, correctable moments on game film.
Kill The Lights
*explanation of the Plus/Minus/Net is now found at bottom
Anthony Zettel turned in a career day. He made both UCF guards look really bad, and, on at least one occasion, he embarrassed the UCF right tackle as well. Film Room credited him with 4 Tackles For Loss, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery, 3 QB pressures, 1 pass break up (when he hit the QB's arm as the QB attempted to throw), and a handful of run stuffs.
Last year, Film Room wrote that Zettel was Penn State's best pass rusher. So Film Room was mildly distraught when we heard that Zettel would be moving inside to tackle, particularly when the world knew defensive coordinator Bob Shoop as a 43 Over disciple.
After the Blue-White spring game, though, we changed our tune a bit. The 1980's belly jersey was a cool look for Zettel. And when we saw Shoop run a ton of 43 Under, we got on board with Anthony's move inside.
Not a moment too soon, either. In the shot below, UCF faces 2nd and 10 on the opening series of the game. They're going to pull their backside guard and playside tackle in a sweep to Penn State's left. Our Lions line up in Shoop's base 43, with DE Barnes and DT Zettel at the bottom of the screen.
In the second shot, you get a yellow "1" and a yellow arrow pointing out Zettel beating the block of the playside guard. Already. Zettel hits the guard violently off the snap, and rips inside, shucking the guard in his wake. The guard literally falls down on his knees, as if genuflecting. It's so bad that, if I didn't see Zettel do this same type of thing for the next 59 minutes, I'd have more likely believed that the guard slipped on the Croke Park pitch. The yellow "2"? That's noting that DE Deion Barnes got hooked by the tight end, which isn't cool. But, as noted in the grades above, Deion still had a whale of a game overall.
To wrap things up, in the final shot of this play we see Zettel leaping onto the UCF ballcarrier's back, as if he's a Serengeti lion attacking a wildebeest. Also in on the play behind the line of scrimmage? That would be free safety Ryan Keiser, the run force man, cleaning up on Zettel's kill. Keiser started the play 10 yards deep.
On the offensive side, Christian Hackenberg takes top honors. In a few years, he'll be turning down underwear commercials and choosing from secret Brazilian supermodeling cabals who will feed him grapes while he reclines in a satin robe overlooking the ocean. Or something like that. Dude's a certified stud.
Beyond the obvious though, was anyone else impressed by young Andrew Nelson at right tackle? Film Room was. We dinged the Hershey product for his false start on the first snap from scrimmage. After that, though, he not only got most things right, he looked physical, punishing defenders in both the run game and his punches off pass sets.
Below is a shot from a standard fare 2nd and 7 in the first quarter. Nelson is your playside tackle, and he must execute one of the toughest blocks out there - hook the UCF defensive end. It's a tough block because the DE starts outside of Andrew. Andrew has to get off on the snap of the ball, slide to his right, hook the DE inside, and swing his hips around to keep the DE pinned. Left tackle Donovan Smith will pull and lead Zach Zwinak around the edge that young Andrew sets.
That's the idea, anyhow. Andrew holds up his end of the bargain. In fact, he steps right and then clubs the D-End forcefully, pinning the dude almost immediately. Zwinak hasn't received the handoff from Hack, and the D-End is already toast. UCF's edge is gone.
Unfortunately, the rest of the play didn't quite work out. Donovan Smith ran into Nelson's D-End instead of leading around the edge and killing a linebacker. Consequently, that linebacker forced Zwinak to take a wide loop to the edge, which gave UCF the time it needed to pursue. And that's how the run only gained 4 yards instead of 14. In any event - it's early, and there will be teachable moments to come, for certain. But Penn State might have a good one at tackle in Andrew Nelson. With a little luck, Penn State could have the same starting five for the next 23 games.
The Ficken kicker - how about that, huh? Everybody praises him for the game winner. But here at Film Room we tip our caps in Sam's direction for his sweet tackle on kickoff. The bean pole booted the ball, ran downfield, and tackled the UCF kick returner around the 30 yard line. Nice play, Sam.
Film Room also wants to recognize freshman Grant Haley. Haley had a pair of nice returns, showing impressive wheels. Haley notched a tackle on kickoff as well. The true frosh from The Lovett School in Atlanta, GA looks ready for primetime.
Check out BSD's newest Nick's youtube cutup of the offensive snaps.
Something I didn't notice in the first time around - wily John Donovan ran a fair amount of unbalanced line. At 1:53 Donovan Smith flips to the right side, next to Andrew Nelson. Bill Belton runs for 20 yards or so (though it's called back for a holding penalty on Brian Gaia). At 3:40 Nelson flips to the left side in short yardage. And at 4:40, facing a 2nd and 1, Donovan runs the same unbalanced line, with Nelson on the left side. But this time, Hack throws the slant to Blacknall, opposite the strength of the formation.
Hit The Lights
New year, new game, better outcome - notably for Penn State's defense. Last year at Beaver Stadium, UCF ran 38 times for 219 yards. This year, UCF had just 24 yards and a 0.8 per carry average. Zero point eight (of course, that's net of sacks, but still...0.8)!
Our Nittany Lions remain young, and we weren't operating at peak efficiency, particularly in the red zone. Just 26 points from over 500 yards of offense underscores that point. But let's see how much the team improves next week, with this one-off Ireland opener out of the way. If the pattern holds, we might have something pretty good on our hands this year.
UPDATE: Explanation of Plus/Minus
I’m a poor grader for many, many reasons. The most obvious reason, which is Film Room’s slogan, is that I don’t know what I don’t know. Beyond that, I’m a horrible grader because I’m neither impartial nor objective. I’m generally loathe to criticize the players. I judge rookies and vets differently. I have different standards for stars vs. non-stars. I end up grading lineman more often than DBs or WRs, because the TV broadcast only ever follows the stupid football. And I find myself cutting a guy some slack / being more liberal with the pluses, if I’ve already whacked him with a bunch of minuses.
Plus, this week I failed to DVR the game, and had to rely on the ESPN3-web replay thing, which is nearly impossible to rewind (until new Nick published his cut up which is completely awesome). So this opening week is even more suspect than usual.
But if you’re cool with all of those flaws, then here’s the concept behind the plus/minus: every snap gets reviewed, though not every play results in a plus or minus. Do something good, you get a plus. Screw up, you get a minus. Total the pluses and minuses by player, and post to BSD.
Ideally, we'll get three uses from the grades: 1) we reinforce the notion that player X had a kickass game (Zettel); 2) we highlight a good game under the circumstances from someone who might have been overlooked or unjustly criticized elsewhere on the innerwebs (Nelson); and 3) as the weeks roll by too quickly, let’s come back to individual weeks and/or a running total to see if/how things change for a particular player, position group, or side of the ball.