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Film Room Week 7: Running For Success

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After struggling to run the ball all season, Penn State unleashed a comprehensive rushing attack that helped set up a game-sealing touchdown pass to DeAndre Thompkins

Last week's film room was titled Gotta Use Your Legs. I stressed that this offense needed McSorley to become a serious threat to pick up yards on the ground in order for it to be a very good offense. Against Maryland, Penn State had 372 yards rushing on  62 carries, good for 6.0 YPC. That total would be even better if you consider the three sacks surrendered by the Penn State line and the soft holding penalty that erased a Tommy Stevens 22 yard TD run at the end of the game.   Saquon Barkley had his first career 200 yard game, and McSorley had 81 yards on 18 carries, numbers that do not do justice to his effectiveness on the ground.

Before we get into breaking down some plays, I've got to wonder what the Maryland gameplan was on defense in this one. Penn State has struggled consistently running the ball all year against defenses who stacked the box and tried to rush the mesh point of the read option. Furthermore, the weather looked poor for Saturday all week, so odds were it would be tough to throw the ball. Yet Maryland came out and did not stack the box and make a Penn State receiving core who has struggled to gain separation all year to gain separation for McSorley to throw accurately. It was very interesting when you consider that in their previous games this season, albeit against lesser competition, Maryland had frequently stacked the box and forced teams to throw against their secondary, which is probably their best defensive unit. Regardless, it certainly helped Penn State get their ground game going this weekend.

The first play we will look at is a McSorley keep on a read option. Penn State had moved the ball on their opening drive and faced a 1st and 10 from Maryland's 43 yard line.

Unfortunately, I cannot find an end zone view for this play, but it's an important development in the offense so we will have to focus on the sideline view.  Let's look at the pre-snap alignment. Penn State is in base personnel, with the line that started the game on the field, from left to right Mahon-Bates-Gaia-McGovern-Nelson. As you can see, tight end Mike Gesicki is split out rather than aligned somewhere in the box. This is an adjustment Penn State made for this game. The thought process was that it would take a Maryland defender out of the box due to Gesicki's threat in the passing game, and that Gesicki is not a good blocker anyways, so you're not losing much on that front by removing him from the LOS. The strong side of the field for Penn State is to the field side.  Maryland is in 3-3-5 personnel, with the BUCK linebacker being in a three-point stance on this play, lining up against Andrew Nelson at the top of your screen. They only have 6 in the box, which is certainly a favorable number if you're a fan of the Penn State run game.

Let's go to the mesh point.  You'll see at the bottom of the screen we have some similar action to a play we went over in last week's column where Gesicki sets himself up for a potential bubble screen.  Clearly the "read" player here is #90 Roman Braglio of Marlyand. He's been sucked a little too far inside for my liking, though he could certainly be doing so because of how Penn State won last week's game, a play in which Barkley cut back underneath the read player and was nearly untouched into the end zone. If his assignment is to play the quarterback, he might be in a good position here actually. He could have come inside enough to wear McSorley decides to keep it and if he's not biting on Barkley, might be able to bring McSorley down for a tackle for loss. Bates might be giving up slightly too much penetration, but Mahon is doing an excellent job here.

Unfortunately for Maryland, he is not playing the QB. his moment of hesitation after the mesh point is enough for Penn State to be successful here.

As you can see, McSorley gets around the edge. Mahon is doing an outstanding job at the second level (two yards back from the referee). His progression this year has been tremendous and he is playing 1st team all-conference football right now.

Let's take a look at what might have been the most important play of the game. Coming off a Maryland TD drive right before half, Penn State is leading 17-14. After a big run by Barkley, they're left with :23 seconds left in the half, one timeout, and a 2nd and 10 at the Maryland 45.

We're going to focus on the End zone view for this play, but quickly let's look at the pre-snap alignment from the sideline. It's base  11 personnel for Penn State.  Deondre Thompkins is split out wide to the right off the screen.

Here's the look from the end zone pre-snap. This is after regular RT Andrew Nelson went down with a pretty significant knee injury. Paris Palmer has come in at Left Tackle, forcing Brendan Mahon to the RT spot. Maryland appears to be in a 3-3-5 look defensively here with #4 Will Likely coming up into the box to make it a 6 man box for the Terps and weak-side linebacker #2 Shane Cockerille slides back and plays a deep safety look.   Given the time remaining, a pass is likely for Penn State here. However, Penn State did just gash them on the run a few plays earlier, and as you can see, Maryland's front is not set up to stop the run whatsoever.

Here we are right at the mesh point. Last week I got on Trace a little bit for missing some reads on the read option plays so far, but he was very good Saturday and got this one right too, though it was pretty straightforward.  The "read" player, in this case #90 for Maryland, gets well up the field, making Mcsorley's decision to hand this off to Barkley an easy one. As you'll see in the gif, #23 for Maryland actually jumps into, from Penn State's perspective, the 1 hole. Bad choice, as this play is going to go to the 2 hole instead. Gaia lets #23 take himself right out of the play. Ryan Bates flat-out wins against #96 from Maryland. Everything he does is perfect on this play.   The only thing separating Barkley and the second level at this point is Will Likely.

Will Likely actually does a nice job getting to the correct hole. Luckily for Penn State, freshman Connor McGovern played his best game of his young career so far and get a hat on Likely.  At this point, it's up to the talent of the running back to make a great cut to really break this play. Penn State's running back is Saquon Barkley, and he is pretty good.

Of course, Barkley makes the cut, which really is a harder cut than these screenshots make it look. At this point, Barkley has the angle given his running head start against Cockerille of the Terrapins and what would've been a derided playcall had it gone for three yards is considered brilliant as Barkley takes it to the house.

It will be interesting to see what kind of new wrinkles Penn State will unveil after the bye week. They will probably need them against the Buckeyes.