Penn State coaches have a rough job this week. Their young Nittany Lions just destroyed Maryland on national television. If you adhere to the old coaching maxim of “praise when they’re down, criticize when they’re up”, then the head bald coach and his gang must search far and wide to find things to nitpick and criticize, because on Friday night, everything worked.
Literally, every single thing worked. It was unbelievable.
Well, scratch that. Almost everything worked. But when something didn’t work, Brent Pry and Ricky Rahne fixed it for the next series, if not sooner. Let’s take a look.
Kill The Lights
The “scrape exchange” is a fancy foosball term for trading run gap responsibilities in order to confuse the offense (and typically, it’s to confuse a zone-read / option offense). Use the embedded playback controls in the gif below to freeze the gif before the snap of the ball. As shown in that freeze frame, LB Micah Parsons has the “B” gap between the guard and tackle, while DE Yetur Gross-Matos has the “C” gap outside the tackle - that’s where they start the play, that’s where they’re pointed, that’s what makes sense. But press the play button, and you’ll see that they exchange gap responsibilities, with Yetur jumping inside on the snap and Micah folding over him, outside, as edge force or anchor. Yetur blows up the play, and everyone cheers. The scrape exchange worked. Hooray. (And how about #5, TCF, coming in hot, and blowing up the fullback.)
The gap switch worked until it didn’t work. And it didn’t work terribly well when Maryland pulled linemen. As shown in the gif below, by jumping inside, Yetur takes himself out of the play. Maryland pulls two linemen and sends them left, where they take out Tariq Castro-Fields and Micah, leaving Anthony McFarland in a one on one with Garrett Taylor. Taylor makes the play, but if McFarland had another 3 feet of field, he may have turned the corner.
This counter rush worked twice more on Maryland’s one decent offensive drive of the evening, producing about 15 yards. Unfortunately, no video evidence exists of these runs on that drive. But trust us, they worked.
Why didn’t Maryland come back to this run, then, if it worked? They did. But Brent Pry had already noticed this one play that allowed Maryland to gain positive yards, and he took that away, too, following the semi-successful drive. Brent saw it, and changed it on the sideline between series.
In the gif below, still in the second quarter, Maryland pulls one OL and sends the FB with him. PSU doesn’t scrape exchange, and instead uses its DE (Jayson Oweh) to slam into a puller and pinch, folding the run back inside. Back on that inside, Antonio Shelton’s beaten his block cleanly, and leaps on the Terp RB’s back like a lion on a wildebeest. What kinda worked for brief moment now results in yet another backwards play the Terps - one of many Friday night. Maryland wouldn’t net 100 yards of offense until the 4th quarter.
Remember the long, boring off season, when BSD had a “most important” player type of post? This gif below is why KJ Hamler is your “most important player”. Behold, the overwhelming influence of hot, nasty speed on a defense.
Note what KJ’s pre-snap motion does to the Maryland defenders. Little 10lb, 8 oz infant baby Hamler erases half of the Terp defenders from this play. He destroys them by his mere presence, motioning right to left. Cliff and Journey Brown option the one remaining defender to the play side for an easy score.
Below’s the one play that didn’t work on offense. Maryland lines up on 1st down in “zero” coverage, stuffing eight defenders - that’s 8 (!) - into the tackle box, and leaving their three corners all alone on islands. Those corners are backed off 8 yards, giving our WRs free releases. And with every other defender packed onto the line of scrimmage, this would be an easy pitch and catch for PSU. Maryland is practically begging and pleading with PSU to take the easy yards against this absurd defense.
But for whatever reason(s), PSU doesn’t check out of the run call. Cliff snaps the ball with 15 seconds remaining on the play clock, and gives the ball on a generic zone read - right into the 8 man box (with 6 blocking). 6 blocking 8 es no beuno.
If it was pity for Maryland on Rahne’s part that made him stick with the run call, then his pity didn’t last very long. Just two snaps later, on 3rd down, Maryland gives PSU a similar look - locking receivers up in man while threatening blitz. Ricky Rahne heeds Maryland’s pleas for immolation, and KJ - who despite facing a DB playing outside leverage, still manages to snap the dudes ankles at his in cut - provides the necessary spark. PSU takes the easy pitch and catch vs this man defense for a first down (which KJ turns into a 58-yard score, roasting the turtles).
Left in a pile of smoldering ashes by playing man and blitzing, Maryland tried some zone as a change up in the 2nd quarter. Ricky Rahne torched them some more. Focus on the top / left half of the gif below, and you’ll see a zone-beater “switch” concept from PSU’s X and Y receivers. The outside receiver runs to the end zone. That forces the corner to sink deeper set in his short zone, and draws the safety, #3 Nick Cross, out of the middle of his deep half. As Cross sprints toward the corner of the end zone to cover the go, TE Nick Bowers hooks up in the spot where Cross ought to be, catches the ball, and powers into the end zone for yet another score. (And how about the zone blitz pickup by the true frosh, Noah Cain? Brandon Beachum would be proud).
But wait, friends, there’s so much more. Here’s an RPO on 3rd and short that could not have been more perfectly matched to torch the defense Maryland called. It’s uncanny. The Terps show man, and blitz the nickle DB who had been standing in front of Jahan Dotson. Sean Clifford pulls the ball out of Noah Cain’s belly, flicks it to Jahan - since no one is covering him any longer - and takes an easy 5 yards for a first down.
Take a look at this play design below, abusing Maryland’s All B1G spacebacker Antoine Brooks Jr. Hamler comes inside on a drag, pulling Brooks with him, and picking off the Terp LB who is desperately trying to get outside to keep up with Devyn Ford. A nicely placed ball from Cliff means Ford never breaks stride, and he cruises up field with ease.
Near the end of the first half, after getting absolutely lit on fire, in every possible way, Maryland’s defensive coordinator backed off even further. In fact, the Terps backed off so far that Rahne made them pay for backing off. In the gif below, Maryland rushes four and leaves just one lonely MLB to cover two ball threats - Cliff, and RB Journey Brown. When the LB doesn’t blitz, Brown releases into the flat - and that LB starts to cover Journey. But when Cliff steps up in the pocket and threatens to tuck the ball and run, the LB comes off Journey Brown to stop Cliff. Cliff tosses it to the now-uncovered Brown, and Journey shows off his 9.8 100 meter speed. No matter what Maryland did, PSU made them wrong. Everything worked.
Did we mention that everything worked? Well we mean everything worked, including - wait for it - a screen pass. Even a [bleeping] screen pass worked. Penn State hadn’t successfully run a designed screen pass since September 25th, 1997, with Aaron Harris. That’s 264 games spread over twenty-two seasons without a successful screen pass - until Friday.
Take a look at the gif below, and give an atta-boy to Michal Menet for his crushing kick out on the Terp MLB, which springs Ricky Slade.
What a fun game this was, huh? What a hoot.
The rest of the gifs below are less about scheme, and more simply “wow” moments. Here’s a genuine wow. Sean Clifford throws a 12-yard comeback from the hash, to the far sideline, whilst standing in his own end zone, and staring down a blitzing DB. Friends, this is a certified big boy league throw, and it’s on a rope, on time, and perfectly placed. Not that it had to be on a rope, or on time, or perfectly placed in this instance, because take a look at the 10-yard (!) cushion Jahan Dotson creates on his route, in front of 4-star CB Tino Ellis. Tino’s likely in zone coverage, and maybe he fell down. Let’s hope Tino fell down. Because that’s some alien-level separation by Jahan on a simple comeback.
If Jayson Oweh is “the prototype”, then what do you call Adisa Isaac? Look at what #20 does to Maryland’s offensive tackle, 340-lb Jaylen Duncan, before eating the Terp RB for a 5 yard loss. Good gravy. He’s 18 years old?
Similarly, enjoy the gif below of #91, Dvon Ellies, the true frosh DT from Burtonsville, MD. James from State College put Dvon from Burtonsville on the travel roster this week to play in front of friends and family. Dvon rewarded all of us with an are-you-kidding-me spin move. He’s 18, weighs north of 3 bills, and get a load of those feet. Not quite Anthony Zettel level just yet, but that’s why he (hopefully) can redshirt this season.
One last gif, because we can’t NOT share it. Yes, of course, we should applaud Will Levis for smearing spacebacker Jordan Mosely at the goal line. But if you have a strong stomach, - and only if you have a strong stomach - move your eyes just a bit to the right, and watch what CJ Thorpe does to that Terp DL. It’s not for the faint of heart.
CJ drives the DL into the end zone. Great. Then he pancakes him. Alright. Then he jumps on top of him. Technically, that’s legal. And then - we don’t know for certain. We see CJ’s arms and legs begin flailing and stomping. But mercifully the camera moves to follow Levis’ celebration, just as CJ’s tortured frenzy reaches its apex.
Please note that the figurative score at this juncture is PSU eleventy-billion-trillion, Maryland zero. Although the clock’s still running, this game ended at least 2 hours ago. These facts do nothing to assuage CJ in the least. They do not console him into mercy or kindness. Jeffrey Dahmer had an easier time in prison, than what CJ dished out on that poor Terp DL. CJ’s the nicest guy you could meet off the field. But on the field, he’s a total cannibal, and Matt Limegrover should consider fitting CJ with one of those Hannibal Lector hockey masks, before he chews off a defender’s face.
Hit The Lights
Writing this much praise confuses and disorients us. It makes us uncomfortable to say nice things, or to be happy. So, although it may come too late in this post, we must provide a disclaimer, explicitly: this was Maryland. Maryland stinks at foosball. Maryland has always stunk, and probably will always stink, at the foosball. Moreover, Maryland bothered to compete for only about one quarter of the game.
Now then, with that disclaimer out of the way - that was the best performance, overall, that Film Room’s seen from Penn State in...I dunno, exactly, but it’s been a long, long time. Brent Pry and Ricky Rahne were dialed in, the players - all of them, 1’s thru 4’s - executed at a high level, and everything worked. It was an incredible performance.
Great coaches praise the team when they’re down, and push them when they’re up. James Franklin and staff are going to have to search far and wide to find things to gripe about at practice and in meeting rooms this week. This is a young team, and young teams are notoriously inconsistent. Who knows what next Saturday will bring against a banged up Purdue. But this young team just set a standard by which fans will judge the rest of the 2019 season. (And brother, it’s a pretty high standard.)
It’s a fun time to be a Nittany Lion.