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Midweek Musings - Penn State Needs to Hit the Long Ball Again

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The deep ball has disappeared, and the Penn State offense has begun to sputter

Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Like many among you, I was extremely distraught after the loss this past weekend to Michigan State. It’s not that the Spartans are a bad team, but in 2018 Penn State should have been better. How can a team go from hanging with the current number 2 program just two weeks ago, and suddenly lose to a depleted MSU squad?

Personally, it appeared that Penn State called one of the most conservative game plans I’ve seen since 2016. Almost startlingly, the Lions did not attack the biggest weakness the Spartans had - their secondary. Trace McSorley did not have his most accurate game to date, but even so, it appeared that the Lions were attempting to beat Michigan State by using a West Coast-style offense, in which the majority of passes were within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.

Let me be clear - Penn State is not an offense built on time of possession, or imposing its will on opponents. The team is comprised chiefly of smaller, fast players. Those players are not going to line up in the I formation and beat you with man ball. They’re going to attempt to spread you out, and beat you with quickness.

So why, oh why, were we trying to out-muscle the Spartans?

Perhaps it’s because Trace doesn’t trust his receivers. I can’t say that I’d blame him on that regard, as his wideouts have dropped an obscene number of passes. It could also be that the receivers aren’t getting open, a staple of recent departures DaeSean Hamilton and Chris Godwin. Perhaps the offensive staff was trying to get cute, thinking the Spartans would drop more people into coverage, expecting Penn State to air it out.

For whatever reason, the deep pass - which made the Lions so much fun to watch in 2016, and directly led to a Big Ten championship - has almost completely disappeared from the offense. Without the threat of a 40 yard gain in a single play, defenses are choking up toward the line of scrimmage, clogging passing lanes and preventing the run game from really getting going.

I’d love more than anything to see Air McSorley return against Indiana this weekend, slinging the rock deep down the field repeatedly. If that happens, and the Hoosiers have to back off to defend the deep ball, watch the run game and underneath passing routes open up.

It’s time for YOLO-ball to return.