Our Penn State Nittany Lions visit Iowa City, IA for a showdown with the Hawkeyes in a highly anticipated battle for national supremacy.
Wait a moment - that’s the forthcoming wrestling dual preview, still 4 long, painful months away. (It’s going to be an incredible match.)
In the meantime, fans must content ourselves with football. Penn State travels to Kinnick Stadium for a night game. Everyone knows what that experience brings: rabid fans, an electric atmosphere, and maybe even a severed pig head tossed at you during warm ups. It’s as good as college football gets.
For the most part, everyone knows what they’re getting from Iowa, schematically, as well. Well, scratch that. Everyone thinks he/she knows what he/she will get from Iowa, schematically. But if he/she hasn’t been paying close attention, he/she will be terribly wrong. Let’s take a look.
Kill The Lights
The expectation for Iowa’s offense is that they’ll run a ton of outside zone, and stand a large, immobile quarterback in the pocket. The expectation is about half right. Iowa’s transitioned to running man/ISO and inside zone schemes on well over half of their rushes, as a more effective tool against leaner, horizontally faster defenses (like PSU’s). (The large, immobile quarterback aspect remains as large, and as immobile, as ever). So, if you pine for fullbacks leading through a hole and smashing into a linebacker, you’re in luck. You’ll get at least 20 snaps of that Saturday night.
But it’s the defensive side where Iowa’s gotten trickier. Hit the pause button on the embedded video below before the snap of the ball. And there it is, right? That’s what you see 10 billion times per game from Iowa’s defense, whether the offense plays with “10” personnel (one back, zero TEs), or “23” personnel. Iowa puts two safeties on the field, always and forever, and those two safeties stand precisely on each hash, somewhere between 10 - 15 yards deep.
Press the play button, and Iowa gives us a big fat surprise. It’s a boundary corner blitz on 1st down. What for all the world looked like Cover 2 pre-snap transforms into zero-deep safeties, with Iowa’s 3 remaining DBs locked into 1-on-1 coverage, sans deep help.
Iowa jumps onto the opposite foot, as well. In the gif below, the Hawks show press man coverage (!!! press man from Iowa !!!) with just a single high safety pre-snap. The other 7 defenders are jammed onto the line of scrimmage, threatening blitz. A fraction of a second before the snap, they all bail out, and slip back into their comfortable, buffet jeans (aka, cover 2).
Another pre-snap, plain Jane look. Another disguised blitz, this time from the MLB into the A gap.
Eight years and 5 weeks ago, Penn State burnt three time outs in the first 90 seconds of its game against Alabama, mostly trying to get Nick Saban to show his disguised coverage pre-snap, so that Jay and Galen in the booth could rock-paper-scissors a better play. (It was not a fun time). Ricky Rahne’s meerkat approach will have its hands full Saturday night, because checking from one look to another will likely only elicit a counter check. Below, Iowa shows blitz. Shea Patterson checks out of the called play and into 7-man protection. As Patterson does that, Iowa checks out of its blitz and into 7 zone defenders (for 3 Michigan receivers). This result was an incomplete pass (followed by a shanked field goal).
One last gif, and it’s a nod of appreciation for Geno Stone, the 2-star prospect (0.7991 rating) from New Castle, PA. Find me a 5-star safety who hits this option as quickly, or tackles half as well.
Hit The Lights
Twenty years ago, college players went home for the summer, like most other students. Today that gets you portal’d. Your “scholarship” is actually a year-round, full-time job. And because it’s a full-time job (for most), playing one defense all season long, no matter the opponent, or personnel, or formation - that lunacy gets you kilt by these professionals.
Ricky Rahne’s play sheet needs to have a bunch of cover 2, zone-beater calls on it. It’s still Iowa, of course. And Sean Clifford will need to stay patient, taking the short gains to keep the chains moving when he gets those looks. But on somewhere around 1-in-5, or 1-in-4 of PSU’s offensive snaps, Iowa will give man-coverage opportunities, too. Ricky and Cliff will have to stay alert and focused to recognize those opportunities, and exploit them.
It’s a wholly different test for both of them this season - effectively, a 180-degree opposite of Pitt, Maryland, and Purdue, who blitzed like mad (and, mostly, got roasted for it). Film Room’s excited to see the results this Saturday night (but, hoo-boy, that wrestling dual coming down the pike).