Way back in 1994, Kerry Collins completed 66.7% of his pass attempts. Twenty-six years and a ton of offense-inspired rule changes later, Kerry’s mark remains the best PSU fans have enjoyed in a single season of foootbaw. And that’s a yuge problem for Dear Old State in the great leap forward, from great to elite.
Film Room looked at the average completion percentage and average yards per attempt for the Top 25, the Top 50, and the Bottom 50 quarterbacks, by year, from 1994, 2010, and 2020. The stats for each appears in the handy tables below. First up, Completion Percentage:
Next up, Yards Per Attempt
Current offenses operate nothing like the offense run so superbly by Kerry Collins circa 1994. Back then, Collins’ 66.7% and 10.1 yards per attempt were so far to the right on the bell curve that you almost couldn’t see them. In 2020, they’re merely really good, rather than unbelievable.
Unfortunately, the “unbelievable” category still exists today, but it exists in Columbus, OH. There, Ohio State’s Justin Fields is completing 86.7% of his passes, averaging almost 11 yards per attempt, and has as many touchdown passes (11) as incompletions (11). The good news for fans of Dear Old State is that last year, in Minnesota, some average 3-star no-name quarterback ran Kirk Sriracha’s offense, and managed to match Kerry Collins’ 1994 numbers, with 66% completion and 10.2 yards per attempt. The bad news, of course, is that PSU’s not there just yet. Through 3 games, Sean Clifford is completing 56.6% of his passes at a 7.0 yards per attempt rate.
Cliff, as QB, is the most visible and most easily tracked. He’s definitely not alone, though, in experiencing less than hoped for results in this Coronatide season. You can include Film Room in that pile of 2020 underperformers, too, as Film Room’s gif-making machine has quit. Stupid pandemic. Anyhow...
Kill The Lights
You are looking live - well, scratch that. You are looking at a still frame screen capture of last Saturday’s initial 3rd and 3 for the Terps. Even without the handy red arrows, you can quickly and easily see man coverage across the board, with senior Lamont Wade as the single high safety. Circled in yellow, you’ll notice senior Jaquan Brisker and senior Tariq Castro-Fields taking the top two Terp receivers. TCF is pressed to the line of scrimmage, whilst Jaquan plays off.
Senior cornerback Tariq jams the outside receiver, but allows an inside release. Senior safety Jaquan awaits further developments from the wideout and slot. These two employ standard anti-bunched-receiver strategy, wherein one presses and jams, whilst the other hangs back, chilling out, so that they don’t trip over each other following “their man”. In fact, they don’t (typically) have a specific man. Rather, they let the receivers determine who takes whom. Brisker, playing off, will take the vertical threat, while TCF will take the shallow threat. At least, that is the strategy involved - again, so they don’t foul each other up chasing criss-crossing receivers.
As shown below, they switch. Jaquan takes the vertical route from Dontay Demus. Tariq tries to switch onto the underneath route from Rakim Jarrett.
We’re not 2 full seconds into the play, and this one is toast. Tariq stumbles out of his jam, and because he allowed an inside release, he has to wait for that outside receiver to clear him vertically before he can begin chasing the slot running away from him on the underneath route (who never criss-crossed, anyhow). Moreover, with both PSU linebackers (#40 Jesse Luketa and #13 Ellis Brooks) attacking the line of scrimmage, there is not a single soul to muddy up the passing lanes. Actually, forget the term “lane”, and swap in “entire field”. The entire center of the field has been vacated, on a 3rd and 3. Our single high safety, senior Lamont Wade, began the play 15 yards deep, necessarily must back pedal to respect the vertical routes, and, consequently, has zero shot to assist in any meaningful way on Jarrett’s shallow cross 8 yards in front of him.
And that’s six quick points.
As we all know only too well, this happened again, later in the first quarter. While it looked incredibly similar, Brent Pry actually dialed up a very different defense. Ol’ Gary Busey went with a dime package on this 3rd down and 6, removing one defensive lineman, and replacing him with one additional defensive back (in addition to swapping one LB out for one DB). Three defensive linemen, two linebackers, and six DBs are on the field.
Unfortunately, we’re still playing man. Freshman #25 Daequan Hardy joins the fun. He tracks Jarrett from the slot (you can see #25 below running horizontally). Tariq Castro-Fields, outside, rides Demus’ inside release hard, and stays with Demus on his vertical route. Jarrett jabs outside from behind TCF and Demus, getting Hardy to commit to running over top of Castro-Fields and Demus - then Jarrett cuts back inside on the same damn drag, with nearly-instant separation.
Here’s your zig vs zag shot, creating that instant separation for his freshman QB. However, unlike the first big play, Jesse Luketa stays home in the slant lane. Note the gigantic dude in a blue jersey directly in the path of the zigging Jarrett. This forces Terp QB Taulia Tagovaialoa to step up in the pocket. But with just 3 pass rushers, there’s not enough push to make a difference.
The two deep safeties afforded by the dime package went for naught, as Jarrett again ran across and down the length of the field untouched, for another instant 6.
Hit The Lights
As we know now, Penn State got burned 3 more times on man coverage in the first half, and allowed 210 yards of offense and 4 touchdowns on just those 5 plays. Brent Pry switched primarily to zone coverage in the second half, and the Terp offense produced 0 points. Hooray for more adjustments.
This is, bar none, the strangest season Film Room can remember. The Pitt Panthers had a neat trick a few seasons ago, where they’d beat Clemson at Clemson, and get humiliated at home against Youngstown State. Remember that? Well for some reason, practically everyone became Pitt this year. The Corona has turned everything into Pitt Panther football - even our gif maker machine.
Fortunately, if you’re reading this, you’re still breathing. And if you’re still breathing, then you can join Film Room in taking away a vitally important lesson from this completely bizarre season, paraphrased from the late great Jimmy Valvano:
Don’t Pitt. Don’t Ever Pitt.