We’re burying you under a tidal wave of film this week. We’ll cut the crap and get right to it.
Kill The Lights
Our first shout out goes to Scrum Master Jesse Luketa. He’s Scrum Master not because he’s certified in agile project management methodology, but for reasons the gif below make obvious. Luketa was last on the scene to KJ Hamler’s opening kick fumble, but dove into the pile, and won.
How about Shaka Toney, who blocked an early Spartan field goal attempt with his face?
Or right gunner Dan Chisena, who set up the PSU offense with a free 1st and Goal?
Or left gunner Drew Hartlaub, who beat the jam cleanly, out-raced the Sparty DB, and made a perfect fair catch on the 1-foot mark in driving rain?
After near-constant moaning about the special teams units last season, what a breath of fresh air this year’s units have been, eh? Wooo! Count the points in the gifs above. It’s at least 13. Thirteen! Against a Tressel-ball disciple, no less! What a welcome improvement.
Astute observers of Penn State football may have noted that QB Sean Clifford directs the lion’s share of his passes at two targets, KJ Hamler and Pat Freiermuth. Film Room posits that it’s at least partly because those two guys get open.
Slow the video on the clip below, and watch what Moose does to both the OLB and S who are bracketing him in coverage. It’s subtle, but extremely effective. The little nod at the top of Moose’s break sends both Sparty defenders in the wrong direction by one step. That one step becomes two steps as Moose exists his break cleanly, and turns back to Cliff, presenting an easy target.
We can’t mention shake and not show the human joystick. Marvel at what KJ does to this All-B1G cornerback on a simple quick out, despite that CB playing outside leverage. That’s nuts.
Those kinds of moves are developed over time. First you put them on film. That earns you opportunities from your QB. If you catch those opportunities - and particularly if you bail out your QB’s bad throws, and rack up the YAC for his stats (what the kids call “ballin’”)- you eventually earn your QB’s trust. And your QB just starts slinging it at you, even if you’re doubled or in thick traffic. Justin Shorter, at the top of the gif below, is definitely going to get there. But not quite just yet.
Of course, there are other times when you’re supposed to be bracketed, with LBs underneath you, and a safety mirroring you over the top - and you get the ball with no defenders in sight, because they’re Sparty, and do all manner of “Sparty No!” things - like forget that they’re supposed to cover the conference’s most dangerous receiver.
Watch #6 Andrew Dowell. The veteran Dowell had the deep coverage on Freiermuth. Dowell sees KJ catch the ball, and then immediately turns his head to look for his teammate, #3 Henderson, who was supposed to be covering Hamler. After KJ scores 6, Dowell finds his safety-mate for some on field coaching pointers.
A quick tip of the cap to Ricky Rahne, while we’re at it. Film Room loves breaking tendencies. Ricky might wait longer to break them than most. But when he does, it’s like an extra twist of the knife.
Below is one of PSU’s staple runs. Combo blocks on the inside, while Freiermuth, aligned as an H-Back, comes across the formation to seal the unblocked DE on this power run. I’ve seen this, you’ve seen this - everyone on planet Earth has seen PSU run this play at least 10 times per game. At least 10 times.
And then, suddenly - it’s not a power run. It’s Moose in the flat, completely uncovered, scoring an easy touchdown. But check out the big brains on the Sparty linebackers. Did those guys know what was coming, or what? You don’t have to run the same play 8,000 times for them to recogni— oh no.
A few weeks ago some smart beat reporter asked James Franklin about pre-snap motion. It’s a great question, as certain skools - Wisconsin, Satterfield (was at App State, now at Louisville) - use a ton of motion. Paul Chryst won’t go to the bathroom without first motioning a WR, or shifting a TE to the other side of his living room.
In any event, the reporter specifically asked why PSU doesn’t use (any) more of it. The Head Bald Coach’s answer was that motion can confuse a defense - but motion can also confuse a (young) offense. And for now, at least, PSU doesn’t use (any) much of it.
When, or if, James From State College changes his mind about that, then Film Room would like him to steal this play from Sparty. In the shot below, Sparty shows a trips right bunch, and motions the outside receiver inside just before the snap. As Film Room’s described previously, this totally messes with a defense’s man coverage responsibilities. Our DBs would have to think on their feet to stay with their designed man.
Fortunately for PSU, Brent Pry called a zone blitz. (At least, we think he did). You can’t screw with DBs’ man coverage responsibilities if they’re not in man coverage. The bad news, unfortunately, is that someone blew his assignment, anyhow.
As shown in the gif below, Micah Parsons rushes the QB and DE Yetur Gross Matos drops toward the flat. Since they both did the same thing, and that thing is commonly called a zone blitz, or zone dog, we can guess that they did the right thing. We can’t be sure about the others. Cornerback DJ Bown looks like he’s playing deep third, or deep quarter. Safety Garrett Taylor appears to be playing man (or, getting tackled by a Sparty TE). And MLB Ellis Brooks is sprinting to the flat, past Yetur, to catch up to Sparty’s RB running a check down route - that’s man. Half zone (Yetur and DJ) + half man (Ellis and Garrett) = all confused. Sparty can’t block this for even 2 full seconds - Micah comes practically unblocked, because Sparty’s OL is awful - but the coverage bust results in a gain of 18, instead of a sack.
It isn’t easy being green. Not everyone handles losing with grace and aplomb.
Sparty right guard #66 is still working on losing with grace. In the gif below, he dives late on Jaquan Brisker, after Brisker’s INT. No flag.
That wasn’t his first rodeo in this game. Below, after getting his clock cleaned legally by Yetur, he jumps back up, and then dog piles Ellis Brooks late. Naturally, it was Penn State who drew the personal foul flag, for barking in retaliation, not Sparty, for being cheap.
In the shot below, C.J. Thorpe stomps a mud hole in All-B1G DE Kenny Willekes. Stones him cold for a full 4 seconds. Then, thinking his internal play clock expired, CJ lets Kenny go - and Kenny takes a late shot on Sean Clifford.
Micah Parsons got gang tackled on a screen pass (no flag), and OC Mark Allen tried MMA ground and pound with the forearm to the throat (also no flag).
Why would offensive linemen - the smart ones on any football roster - act that way? Probably lots of reasons. But one of those is because they got their asses kicked during the play, mostly all game long.
Hit The Lights
This has been a long blog post. Let’s wrap up.
- Thank you, Special Teams. We appreciate you, even if we don’t gif you very often.
- Congrats to doctoral route running students Pat Freiermuth and KJ Hamler.
- Nice work, Ricky Rahne, on twisting the knife you put in Mark Dantonio’s chest.
- Sparty is Sparty, forever. Long live roid rage and late hits.