As Dante and Virgil pass from Purgatory and approach the gates of Hell, they're greeted by a sign which reads, "lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'entrate" - abandon all hope, you who enter here. This Florentine phrase could also have appeared above the door to the meeting room of the 2014 Penn State offense. It would have fit. The tortured souls stuck in that place certainly reflected incredible pain, anguish, and suffering most Saturdays last Fall.
But hope springs eternal in the human breast. Or, at least, spring football births new hope. A fresh, unblemished season provides a chance at a new offensive life for our Nittany Lions. Let's take a look at the 1st team (Blue) offense's starting drive from Saturday's scrimmage.
Kill The Lights
Play 1 - 1st and 10 - Blue lines up with "12" personnel (1 running back, 2 tight ends). The O-line executes a half-slide left as QB Christian Hackenberg fires a quick hitch complete to WR Saeed Blacknall for 8 yards.
Play 2 - 2nd and 2 - Blue sticks with the "12" personnel, and runs outside zone to the right. DE Evan Schwan stuffs RT Andrew Nelson, blowing up the playside. DT Tarow Barney beats LT Paris Palmer cleanly on the backside of the play, leaving RB Akeel Lynch with no cutback lane. Lynch burries forward for no gain.
Play 3 - 3rd and 3 - Remember the Stick-Draw-Smoke packaged play from last year? Blue runs something similar here, from "11" personnel (1 back, 1 tight end, 3 wide receivers). Instead of a "smoke" route to the field, with a slot receiver blocking, WR Blacknall is the lone receiver to the wide side, singled up in man coverage. Hackenberg receives the snap and fires another quick hitch to Blacknall for 6 yards and a first down.
Play 4 - 1st and 10 - Let's call this play "13 Counter". We need to give it a name, because we've seen it 1,000 times - we need a shorthand reference. Blue is in "12" personnel, with one TE on the line of scrimmage, and the other TE in motion. The second (motion) TE acts as a fullback to the play side - the left side of the formation in this instance. The backside guard - RG Brian Gaia - pulls from his spot on the line and loops to the left side of the line, acting as a lead blocker in what is expected to be a hole between the LG (Brendan Mahon) and LT (Paris Palmer). RB Lynch (the "1" in "13 Counter") takes a jab step to his right - the counter - which synchs with the pulling RG (timing is important in these type of schemes) - and runs behind Gaia into the "3" hole. Anyhow - 13 Counter. "1" back into the "3" hole, off of "counter" action. Last year, as mentioned, we ran this play a ton, and may have gained 3 yards on it twice all season. Things are improving, though, BSDers. This time, against the 2nd team defense, Blue gained 3 yards. We're 1-for-1 in 2015.
Play 5 - 2nd and 7 - this is another run-pass option. Hack chooses the quick hitch. It's good again for a 1st down.
Play 6 - 1st and 10 - Carter and Blacknall execute a "smoke" route to the field. Carter misses his block, but that's okay because Blacknall drops the pass. Hey - it's spring.
Play 7 - 2nd and 10 - Blue is still in "12" personnel, but they're aligned in a 3x1 formation - 3 receivers bunched to the boundary (that's the short side of the field), with 1 receiver (Blacknall) singled up to the field (that's the wide side). Blacknall runs another hitch, and comes away with 6 yards.
Play 8 - 3rd and 4 - Hackenberg throws the ball off of a 1-step-and-a-hitch (3-step equivalent), but it's batted down at the line by NT Parker Cothren.
Play 9 - 4th and 4 - Blue is near the White 35-yard line, but Blue is going for it! Wooo!!! No punting on this drive! Blue runs play #6 again, but instead of the "smoke", Hack throws to WR DaeSean Hamilton running a shallow cross. Hamilton drops the ball, and it wouldn't have mattered anyhow because the Big Ten ref flagged LG Brendan Mahon for holding DT Tarow Barney. James Franklin speaks to the referee, who then announces his flag as "Illegal Hands to the Face", on an un-named defender. That's a personal foul, 15 yards, and an automatic 1st down. It's good to be king.
Play 10 - 1st and 10. No video, no gifs for this. But tons o' pictures. In the shot below, Blue will be running a power scheme (off of another run-pass option). Center Angelo Mangiro will engage NT Cothren, with RG Gaia doubling him before moving to a linebacker. RT Nelson will seal DE Schwan to the outside, while TE Carter reverses his motion and performs the role of fullback, leading through the right side of the line. Defensive Coordinator and Frank Broyles Assistant Coach of the Year semi-finalist Bob Shoop has dialed up one of his favorite spring game blitzes for his White charges - a zone blitz from the field. His SAM linebacker will come off the edge (arrowed at the top the screen), while his RDE Curtis Cothran will jab-step and drop into the flat to the boundary (bottom of the shot below). LDE Schwan will take an inside rush, which is the opposite of where RT Nelson wants him to go.
So that's the pre-snap look (above). Below is immediately after the snap of the ball. Hackenberg looks to the "smoke" route at the top of the shot while extending the ball to Lynch for a handoff ("A" below). RG Gaia has stayed low off the ball and stuck his helmet in NT Cothren's ribs, blasting the 300+ lber out of the way ("B" below).
Below we're noting three things: "A" shows the SAM LB staying wide to account for QB Hackenberg keeping the ball off of the read-option (lolno). "B" shows MLB Troy Reeder choosing to fill outside of DE Schwan (probably not a good choice), with TE/FB Kyle Carter choosing to follow him. "C" shows RG Brian Gaia coming off of NT Cothren and looking for the WLB (though I can't tell who is playing WLB).
"A" below shows TE/FB Carter whiffing on MLB Reeder, and knocking over RT Andrew Nelson instead. "B" shows the WLB hesitating for a step, which allows RG Gaia to lock on.
RB Akeel Lynch, who had been headed left (away from the designed "hole") stays patient, plants a foot (arrowed), gets skinny and burst through a gap between Mangiro and Gaia.
And Lynch is off to the races, going 22 yards for the TD.
Big plays get end zone camera views. This was a big play, and the end zone shot highlights what a great run this was by Lynch. Below, just after the snap, we see S Troy Apke ("A") rotating to a single-high coverage after the snap. "B" below points out the combo block by Mangiro and Gaia on NT Cothren, along with Gaia's second victim, the WLB. "C" shows MLB Reeder, who would be TE/FB Carter's (arrowed) man in this run.
Below, we see Carter misses Reeder and knocks over Nelson. Gaia is a step slow releasing from Cothren, so the WLB looks unblocked as well. Lynch, then, sees a bunch of white jerseys and heads to his left, away from the designed hole.
But Lynch stays incredibly patient with the play. He avoids Reeder and Schwan, but waits for Gaia to pick up the WLB. Then he plants his foot, and heads north. S Apke, who was rotating towards centerfield, reverses course and tries to close the gap (top right of shot below). He won't meet Lynch until it's too late.
Hit The Lights
It's spring. Stop reading this, get outside, and enjoy the sunshine.