It’s not always easy to re-watch a game that ends in a loss. This week there were quite a few new faces that saw the field for longer stretches than they had in recent weeks. The Lions had some bright spots that may have been missed in the heat of the battle on Saturday.
Let’s get into it. The rest of the post is in Cody’s own words.
-Yours truly, Chris Taylor.
Offensive Snap Counts (total 95):
- QB: Levis - 69, Clifford - 26
- RB: Ford - 65, Lee - 23, Holmes - 7
- WR: Dotson - 94, Washington - 89, KLS - 46, George - 38, Jones - 7, Lutz - 5, CSB - 1
- TE: Freiermuth - 54, Strange - 45
- OL: Menet - 95, Walker - 95, Fries - 95, Wallace - 84, Miranda - 83, Thorpe - 12, Scruggs - 12
Offensive Personnel Takeaways:
- There was a change at QB starting drive 4 in case you missed that. Will Levis entered for Sean Clifford.
- Last week it appeared that Caziah Holmes was RB2, but this week Keyvone Lee took over. That role appears to truly be an OR designation and pass protection is going to be the key to earning more snaps.
- It appears that PSU has a new starting OL now with Will Fries playing the majority of RG snaps and Caedan Wallace playing the majority of RT snaps. Fries kicked out to RT when Wallace was off the field.
- PSU went with an empty backfield with Devyn Ford lined up as a WR several times, including some jet sweep action with him. They didn’t hit a big play out of it but they showed it.
- Brenton Strange played a lot of snaps in 11 personnel but was primarily a blocker without a pass target (though he should have, I’ll get to that later). I’ve heard Pat Freiermuth may have a shoulder issue but I haven’t seen anything to verify that. They could be trying to keep Pat fresh because he does check in on every passing distance 3rd down, or maybe Strange has earned the time with his blocking. He gets after it all the way until the whistle, it’s great to see.
Defensive Snap Counts (65 total):
- DE: Oweh - 56, Toney - 54, Isaac - 14, Simmons - 6, Tarburton - 2
- DT: Mustipher - 59, Shelton - 40, Beamon - 16, Hansard - 13
- LB: Brooks - 59, Luketa - 56, Smith - 56, Dixon - 9, Jacobs - 8, Katshir - 6
- CB: Ellis - 58, JPJ - 56, Wilson - 12, Hardy - 5
- S: Brisker - 57, Wade - 51, Brown - 14, Sutherland - 8
Defensive Personnel Takeaways:
- Keaton Ellis returned in a big way. He had the most snaps on the team at CB and played well when out there. I’m not sure of the reason for his time on the sideline the first three weeks but with Tariq Castro-Fields out for the game due to the injury suffered vs Maryland it was nice timing.
- PSU played the base 4-3 defense on 64 of the 65 snaps vs Nebraska. That is far more than any other game this year. Brandon Smith had his season high in percent of snaps played and it was all from his base SAM position.
- I noticed Jaquan Brisker near the line of scrimmage more often with Lamont Wade at deep safety. It wasn’t consistent, but it was more than the past games. Brisker looked good further up and showed his athleticism vs the run game. Pry played to stop the run vs Nebraska with the base defense and moved the more athletic safety down near the box more often.
- Daequan Hardy played nickel CB on the first drive and it was the only nickel snap of the game. He got the final 4 snaps of the game in place of Ellis on the outside.
- Clifford: On Target - 4, Catchable - 2, Miss - 8, Uncatchable - 2, Throwaway/Batted - 0
- Levis: On Target - 14, Catchable - 6, Miss - 5, Uncatchable - 5, Throwaway/Batted - 3
- Sean Clifford made three massive errors to end the first three drives. First, he threw a terrible INT where the ball was 5yds inside of where it should have been thrown for an easy pick. Second, he panicked and missed a wide-wide-open Brenton Strange in the end zone before throwing it away on 3rd & goal to stall the drive. Finally, absolutely horrid ball security on the strip-sack fumble TD. Franklin had no choice in the matter, Clifford was shell-shocked out there.
- Will Levis came in the game and Penn State ran the ball 8 times straight before he made a nice, easy pass to Pat Freiermuth in the flat that Pat turned into 10yds. His next pass was an absolute rocket over and behind the head of Jahan Dotson that showed his incredible arm strength but need to work on his touch. Coach James Franklin mentioned during his weekly press conference that they were working on throttling down some of Levis’ throws to make them easier to catch.
- Levis did settle down after that pass and had probably the best passing day of a PSU quarterback this season. He was below 50% on the day but his on-target rate was better. There were a few good passes where a defender cleanly got a hand on the ball through the receiver. The ball was to the chest but maybe a touch late or the receiver didn’t properly box out the defender. Levis needs to be a hair quicker on the trigger before a defender breaks on the pass but hopefully that improves with more practice with the WRs.
- You could tell Levis wasn’t practicing with the first string WRs though. Those fade passes that looked so poor were all a result of him throwing outside and back shoulder with the receiver turning his head inside. I termed those “misses” for Levis but the receiver should share the blame. Hopefully they work on that because I liked his placement and touch far better upon the second review.
- The 74yd pass to Freiermuth was *chef’s kiss*. The play before may have also put Caziah Holmes in the dog house because he completely whiffed in pass protection and was immediately replaced by Ford. Of course, first play in and Ford runs a HB Angle and Rasheed Walker gave the DE $200 as he passed Go. Levis spun out of pressure, rolled left, squared his shoulders, and threw a pass into Freiermuth’s belly 51yds in the air.
- It’s hard to believe since he’s a PSU QB, but Levis actually stayed in the pocket and progressed through his reads on a few plays! Two example plays below show him leaving his covered initial read and finding the open man to convert a first down. He didn’t stare the first read down trying to will him open, he moved on. Progress.
Here is a pass to Parker Washington for a first down.
Later in the game, with the Lions attempting to make what seemed earlier in the game to be an insurmountable comeback, Levis kept his patience, leaving the pocket once he realized his first read, Pat Freiermuth, was double-covered. Freshman KeAndre Lambert-Smith gave Levis a great target and after fleeing to safety, Levis made a great throw to make a 4th down conversion.
- Red zone offense, especially goal-to-go, has been horrible all year but this game was the worst yet. They ran 25 plays in the red zone and gained 19 yards total. Inside the 10 they ran 10 plays and lost 21 yards (15 for penalty). Some team manager forgot to give everyone their Benadryl because they were allergic to the end zone down there. That’s playcalling, execution, and effort giving that sort of result and needs to be fixed.
- I like the revamped OL more than the previous grouping, but I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing more Juice Scruggs at LG. On his only drive I thought Scruggs played really well, and Mike Miranda did not have a great day. Neither did CJ Thorpe. The incumbents are being passed up I think.
- This week it wasn’t big plays causing the breakdown. Nebraska had 5 scoring drives (2TD, 3FG) and averaged over 8 plays per drive. That includes the 3 play drive where the defense forgot that the jet sweep existed.
- I’m not really sure what the issue was this week. I don’t think it can be narrowed down to one thing. In the first half Nebraska moved the line of scrimmage forward and Penn State acted like a running QB was a new creation. I don’t have much to say about the defense.
- PSU’s two best LBs might be playing the same position. It was only 8 snaps, but Curtis Jacobs once again looked legit just like vs Maryland. He’s naturally comfortable in space and wasn’t out of position.
- I don’t know how Jayson Oweh has 0 sacks. He’s a gnat’s hair away so often but never gets the sack. He did cause the interception that was hauled in by Brandon Smith, which gave the Lions their first chance to tie the game in the fourth quarter.
- Attn: Brent Pry - Stop putting Shaka Toney in space. He is not a LB, he should not be dropping into a shallow zone or covering the flats. McCaffery made him look silly a few times, and that’s not the position he should be placed in on defense.