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Film Room Week 9: Nutcrackers

Penn State shut down an explosive Buckeye offense Saturday. How did they do it?

A lot of people thought Penn State did not have a chance last Saturday. In fact, out of the entire Penn State media contingent, I've found only three people who picked Penn State to beat Ohio State--Rowen from BSD, some kid from the Collegian, and myself (okay yeah Eli did too, but that doesn't count).  How did Penn State do it? Simple. There's a blueprint to beating this Ohio State team. It's stop the run on early downs at the risk of Ohio State taking the top off your defense, and then pressure Barrett on passing downs to keep him in the pocket. Those two things are surely easier said than done, hence why Ohio State loses like once a year with Urban Meyer as their coach, but if you can do those two things, Ohio State becomes quite ordinary on offense. Penn State did both.

In the lead-up to the game, the media told us how Mike Weber had been stopped for a loss twice so far on the entire year. He was stopped for a loss more times than that Saturday alone. Let's take a look at one of those times.

Ohio State comes out in what appears to be 11 personnel, but it's actually 21 if you want to count Curtis Samuel, who is in the slot on the near side, as a running back. Penn State is in their base 4-3 here, with Brandon Smith in for Jason Cabinda in the middle and Robert Windsor taking a turn at DT.

Here's the pre-snap look from the end zone view. Nothing too important here, though it is mention-worthy that Manny Bowen is starting out a good three yards wide of the tight end.

Let's look right after snap. You'll see in the clip that it's not a great snap by Pat Elflein of the Buckeyes and that may throw off some timing here.  The Ohio State tight end is in the midst of pulling, as is the right guard, setting up a type of read option called the Buck Sweep read option, which basically means you get two guys pulling around the formation while the players on the side the linemen are pulling to block down the line of scrimmage. This did not work for the Buckeyes here. Bowen is keeping contain. It might look like he's crashing, but his angle coming from wide of the formation will allow him to pursue heavily while still being able to contain Barrett if he wants to keep it and hit the back side. It's hidden a little bit by the pulling tight end, but Evan Schwan is pushing right tackle Isaiah Prince, who had a very rough night, into the backfield.

What is Prince doing so far back in the backfield? That's where Schwan has made him go. I've been critical of Schwan's play throughout his career, but a switch flipped for him somewhere around halftime of the Minnesota game and since then he's been really, really good.  Robert Windsor has also beat his man on the left side of the Buckeye offensive line, meaning even if Schwan does not blow this up with a great individual effort, Windsor is going to take care of it.  Penn State won battles up front all night long, and this play is a great example of that.

Schwan's incredible effort on this play forces Ohio State's version of a butt fumble and nearly changes the game right here.

Ohio State came into the game having only given up five sacks all year. They gave up six to a relentless Nittany Lion pass rush. Let's take a look at the most important of the six.

Ohio State is obviously in empty here. Penn State is going with some unique personnel with only three down linemen, three players are technically linebackers, though one is Koa Farmer who is a recent safety convert, and the rest are defensive backs. Depending on what you want to call Farmer, it's either a nickel or dime look.

Here's the look from the end zone, which we will be focusing on during this play. This play is the biggest play call of Brent Pry's life, and he absolutely nails it.

Penn State brings five off the snap as Jason Cabinda and John Reid are blitzing. What the clip will show you that this will not is that Cabinda hesitates his rush ever so slightly. This baits first year Right Tackle Prince into helping on Schwan, who along with with Kevin Givens is slanting from right to left to the perspective of the Ohio State offensive line. This slight hesitation might have won Penn State the football game. Look at where Cabinda is in respect to Prince. There's no way he's going to get in position to but a good protection set on Cabinda.

Here we see the effects of the slanted rush. Prince's miscalculation, coupled with Schwan moving back towards the inside, is just enough for Cabinda to get outside leverage on Prince and get a free run at JT Barrett.

Meanwhile, Givens, who two years ago was playing running back for Altoona High and did not even have an offer from Penn State, gives returning 2nd team All-American Pat Elflein a spin move from hell. Folks, Kevin Givens is going to be really good. At this point, Barrett is done.  He won't be able to get this off, it will be 4th and 23 for the ballgame for Ohio State, and the Beaver Stadium crowd finds some real belief that they're going to win this game.

Let's switch over to offense and take at look at my favorite play for Penn State from Saturday on the offensive side of the ball.

Penn State comes out in 22 Personnel, though DaeSean Hamilton is lined up behind the quarterback. What is going to happen here doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out. Trace McSorley is going to receive the snap from center Brian Gaia, he's going to go to one knee, signifying that he wants the clock to run until time runs out, thus Penn State beating #2 Ohio State.

Sure enough, McSorley goes to a knee and executes it perfectly. Penn State announces their return to the college football mainstream in a big way. 24-21.

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If Penn State keeps playing defense like they did Saturday, they might be biting into some rose stems sooner rather than later.