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BSD Film Room: Penn State Beats Pitt

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BSD Film Room

Your #5 ranked Nittany Lions dispatched old foe Pitt this past Saturday by a score of 33-14, in the 98th meeting between the two sides. By most common definitions, the simple fact that this game’s been played 98 times makes it a rivalry.

If you want to read some dope’s opinion about whether it’s a rivalry, then browse the internet. It’s an Al Gore smorgasbord of moronic opinions.

This, friends, is Film Room - which pretends to be cold-steel science, but is actually just another stupid opinion. (It won’t be about “rivalry” though. Therefore...)

Kill The Lights

We’ll spend the next 28,000 words breaking down Penn State’s first offensive play, because that’s how long it takes us to get to the point.

Saquon Barkley begins this play in the near slot, as the #3 receiver to the top side. As such, he’s the responsibility of Pitt’s OLB #23 Oluwaseun Idowu, while TE Mike Gesicki - the 4th PSU receiver to the top side - gets taken by Pitt’s MLB #39 Saleem Brightwell.

However, Barkley motions from the near slot and into the backfield. Defensively, this motion requires Pitt’s defenders to trade coverage responsibilities - the MLB gets Barkley, OLB takes Gesicki. That switch requires communication, which can become a potential breakdown - particularly after a sudden change, over-amped, early in the game.

Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead’s scheme is brilliant in its simplicity. Because of the run blocking up front, and because college football allows offensive linemen to go 3 yards downfield without incurring a penalty, this JoeMo play effectively reduces the 11-on-11 to a 3-on-2 scheme, as shown below. Pitt’s DE #8 Dewayne Hendrix and OLB #23 Idowu - who may now be confused about his pass coverage responsibilities - must defend against Gesicki, Barkley, and QB Trace McSorley, in both run and pass.

Using highly advanced computer technology (MS Paint) - here’s JoeMo’s practical reality. The ball is on the left hash, but will magically appear in McSorley’s hands at the 14-yard line. It’s 3 vs 2, and the other 17 guys on the field may as well be invisible.

To the gif, from traditional TV-land sideline view:

Special shout out (below) to RG Brendan Mahon, who buries the Pitt NT off the combo block, as seen in this floating camera view from somewhere behind McSorley’s head.

Here’s what has us wondering out loud this week: how do you defend something like that? You get 11 defenders to position on the field - and Moorhead’s erased 9 of them before the ball even gets snapped.

The answer - whatever it might be - wouldn’t seem to have much to do with traditional concepts. Consider the etymology of “cornerback”, “linebacker”, and “safety”. Each describes the reality of American football circa 1917. A corner-back ‘backs up’ the corner (nee, flank) defender. A line-backer backs up the line-men. A safety provided a 3rd level to your defense, in case the opponent penetrated your first two lines.

If that sounds like trench warfare, well - that’s trench warfare. Defense in depth, protecting ground primarily from frontal assault, while maintaining an awareness of a flank attack. This made perfect sense in 1917, when every offensive play was a run. But most offenses use the forward pass now.

Next, take another look at that gif (pasted below, so you don’t have to scroll up) - but this time watch only Pitt’s backside safety, #20 Dennis Briggs.

All of his football life, (presumably), #20’s been coached as a traditional safety. Take a couple of “read” steps. Diagnose whether it’s a run or a pass. If it’s a run toward your side, force inside out, from the nose tackle to the sideline. If it’s a run away from your side, slow roll it to clean up any cutbacks or reverses. If it’s a pass, you have #2 receiver to your side in this quarters scheme. If it’s a pass and there’s no #2, then blah blah blah - and 50 other defensive principles and techniques, depending upon the particular scheme/coverage.

Unfortunately for #20, none of that amounts to a hill of beans against JoeMo’s play call. He has zero shot at helping to defend the touchdown occurring just 7 yards to his left. JoeMo’s design doesn’t even bother to account for him, because it knows his If-Then-Else responsibilities, and correctly assumes they’ll render him useless to prevent the score.

Consequently, defenses need to change dramatically to match these spread ‘em out, RPO offenses. These split safeties on the hash, 12-to-15 yards off the ball, with 3 backpedal read steps - that stuff doesn’t cut it. They’re getting slaughtered on the scoreboard every week. But it’s going to take some revolutionary thinking to put an end to it, because 150 years of football tradition doesn’t wash off so easily.

Until Then...

Enjoy one-man wrecking crew Shareef Miller. Last week we watched him blow up a pulling guard. This week he kicks the snot out of a tight end at the point of attack to ruin a 3rd and short.

Then, to show he’s not just brawn, he blows by Pitt’s right tackle in a gorgeous speed rush (below). First one off the ball, dip-and-rip - it’s indescribably beautiful, and it’s something PSU’s not had a ton of since Aaron Maybin circa 2008. Man, would this be icing on the cake if Shareef could do it 3 times per game.

Finally, because we’re similarly steeped in those 150 years of foosball traditions - here’s our favorite 360-lb fullback folding behind a 340-lb guard (note another Gonzo pancake), to lead a 220-lb running back to daylight. Ah, tradition. Forget the advanced chess theory and particle physics, and just wail on a guy’s face until he’s unconscious - it works just as well. What a wonderful sport.

One More Thing...

Below is McSorley’s pass chart - the principle analysis of which Trace rendered moo with his honesty post-game, when he volunteered that he had happy feet.

In potentially related news, the other big take-away for us was that blitz addict Pat Narduzzi, umm - he didn’t really blitz. The guy who blitzes everyone on 87% of snaps, blitzed PSU almost not-at-all, and played coverage instead. So there went 6 days of JoeMo’s game planning, as evidenced by the metric ton of swing passes and quick outs and short drags.

Worse - we mostly blocked the 4-man rush, yet it still worked out for Pitt (relatively speaking). We spent 3 years in this column moaning about our mostly awful pass pro, and now that we finally get ‘em blocked, we have a QB who - for this game at least - plays much better when you whiz fastballs at his head. Go figure.

Pass Att. Down-Dist. Pitt Rush Yards Description
1 1st and Goal 4 8 RPO, TD to Gesicki
2 2nd and 7 4 0 12yd comeback, overthrown
3 3rd and 7 4 0 short drag, overthrown
4 2nd and 2 4 0 swing to RB, completed for no gain
5 1st and 10 4 0 throw away, incomplete
6 3rd and 2 4 10 swing to TE, TD to Gesicki
7 1st and 10 6 6 quick out to Hamilton
8 2nd and 4 5 16 quick out to Hamilton
9 1st and 10 4 0 bailed early, throw away, incomplete
10 2nd and 10 4 0 TE seam, overthrown to Holland
11 3rd and 10 4 0 zone blitz 4, barkley missed pickup, throw away
12 3rd and 8 4 -7 Bates beaten, sacked
13 2nd and 2 5 4 short drag, complete for 1st down
14 1st and 10 5 0 Johnson runs wrong route, incomplete
15 2nd and 10 3 0 throw away, incomplete
16 3rd and 10 4 0 end of half heave, intercepted
17 1st and 10 4 0 overthrows post to Gesicki
18 1st and 10 4 46 RB seam, TD to Barkley
19 2nd and 13 4 0 scrambles into pressure, bails, throws away
20 2nd and 8 4 18 back shoulder to Polk, complete
21 1st and 10 4 3 check down, complete to Barkley
22 2nd and 7 6 -4 swing to RB, completed for loss
23 3rd and 11 4 23 corner to Hamilton
24 2nd and 15 4 12 12yd comeback to Thompkins
25 3rd and 3 5 2 quick out complete to Gesicki
26 1st and 10 4 0 throw away, incomplete
27 3rd and 1 4 19 quick out complete to Gesicki
28 1st and 10 4 1 swing to RB, complete to Stevens
29 3rd and 4 5 0 throw away, incomplete

Hit The Lights

So many words - yet we’ve managed only to conclude that we know nothing.

Ain’t football great?