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Snap Counts: Buffalo

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A breakdown of who is actually playing and how often, since the depth chart has betrayed us too often.

Hackenberg calling 43 "Mike," flustering him because his name is actually Nick.
Hackenberg calling 43 "Mike," flustering him because his name is actually Nick.
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

This week, I want to try something new. As we know, the depth chart released every week by James Franklin isn't exactly indicative of what's happening on the field. To get a better idea of what's happening, I decided while re-watching the game to make note of who was on the field on a given offensive or defensive snap. I tallied it up at the end and broke down how frequently guys were getting on the field. Because I did this manually, it may not be 100% accurate for every snap, but it's a good snapshot of where the team is personnel-wise.

(Note: I did not tabulate special teams snaps because the game broadcast angles make it too difficult to do accurately. If you are wondering about which depth guys are seeing action on special teams, you can take a look at this page from Penn State athletics breaking down what players have played in individual games. If you see a player on that page as having played but they are not listed below, that is because they only played on special teams snaps.)

Offense

Pos. No. Offense Snaps %Snap
QB 14 Christian Hackenberg 65 100%
LG 53 Derek Dowrey 65 100%
C 66 Angelo Mangiro 65 100%
RG 72 Brian Gaia 65 100%
RT 70 Brendan Mahon 65 100%
WR 5 DaeSean Hamilton 50 77%
RB 22 Akeel Lynch 47 72%
TE 87 Kyle Carter 47 72%
WR 12 Chris Godwin 44 68%
TE 88 Mike Gesicki 36 55%
LT 59 Andrew Nelson 35 54%
TE 11 Brent Wilkerson 31 48%
LT 73 Paris Palmer 30 46%
WR 7 Geno Lewis 28 43%
RB 26 Saquon Barkley 16 25%
WR 10 Brandon Polk 13 20%
WR 13 Saeed Blacknall 6 9%
WR 3 DeAndre Thompkins 5 7%
RB 8 Mark Allen 2 3%

The unit held steady at quarterback and offensive line with the exception of the left tackle position, which was split by halfs between Andrew Nelson and Paris Palmer after Nelson injured his left knee on the final play of the first half. The big change from last week was the insertion of Derek Dowrey into the lineup at left guard, which kicked Brendan Mahon to right tackle. Nelson is listed at left tackle on this week's depth chart, but whether we see him or Paris Palmer there will be entirely dependent upon Nelson's health.

At running back, Lynch played all but two snaps in the first half. It wasn't until the second half that we saw the true freshman Barkley, and he split carries with Lynch in the third and fourth quarters. Despite Barkley still being listed behind Allen and Nick Scott on the depth chart, it seems like a smart bet that Barkley and Lynch will be getting most of the carries from here on out.

Six of the eight wide receivers listed on the depth chart saw snaps, with only third teamers Juwan Johnson and Matt Zanellato remaining on the bench. We have seen only a few three wide receiver sets from the Nittany Lions due to the heavy use of two (and sometimes three) tight end sets with the struggles on the offensive line. Kyle Carter played nearly every snap in the second half, and Mike Gesicki only saw the field in three tight end sets after dropping two passes on a field goal drive in the third quarter.

Defense

Pos. No. Defense Snaps %Snap
OLB 42 Troy Reeder 69 100%
S/CB 9 Jordan Lucas 69 100%
CB 10 Trevor Williams 63 91%
S 2 Marcus Allen 63 91%
MLB 40 Jason Cabinda 57 82%
DE 95 Carl Nassib 49 71%
DT/DE 98 Anthony Zettel 45 65%
DT 99 Austin Johnson 45 65%
CB 1 Christian Campbell 44 64%
DE 90 Garrett Sickels 41 59%
OLB 25 Von Walker 38 55%
CB 29 John Reid 31 45%
S 6 Malik Golden 31 45%
DT 91 Tarow Barney 24 35%
DE 94 Evan Schwan 23 33%
DE 52 Curtis Cothran 21 30%
DT 41 Parker Cothren 12 17%
DT 93 Antoine White 12 17%
MLB 33 Jake Cooper 12 17%
S 28 Troy Apke 8 12%
DE 19 Torrence Brown 2 3%

Lucas and Reeder played every snap, and Allen would have if not for missing a few snaps after a shoulder injury. Cabinda was briefly spelled by Cooper in the second half. Trevor Williams generally stayed on the field as the top corner, with Reid (who started) and Campbell splitting time at the other corner spot. In nickel situations, Von Walker would leave the field with Golden coming in at safety, allowing Lucas to play slot corner. In the rarely used dime package, Apke comes on the field and Sickels/Schwan goes off, moving to a 3-2-6 look with Zettel as an end.

The team was consistent in giving the starting defensive line unit a break in the middle of each half. Tarow Barney is the number three defensive tackle with Cothren and White splitting snaps as the fourth DT. Schwan is the third defensive end (even getting some snaps in place of Sickels with the rest of the first unit), while Curtis Cothran got most of the looks at fourth defensive end.

Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop is doing a good job of keeping his defensive line fresh by rotating them this much. However, it's important if you do a rotation like this that your second unit be able to produce. It remains to be seen whether this type of rotation will be sustainable against tougher offenses than Buffalo's.