It’s Film Room’s favorite week of the season. For this week, and this week only, Dear Old State faces the Michigan Wolverines, and that means Film Room gets to read an educated outsider’s opinions on our Nittany Lions. The outsider, of course, is Seth at MGoBlog. You probably already have read his Fee Fi Foe Films, but in case you haven’t, stop now and go read them (offense and defense). We’ll wait here.
Welcome back. That was refreshing, wasn’t it? It helps that he’s been similarly tortured this season. However, for the same reason that you should never serve as your own attorney, you should enjoy reading a (mostly) impartial observer’s thoughts on our current situation.
Most of what Seth wrote about the PSU offense we heartily agree with. Our QB play has been horrendous. Our backs are young, foolish, and simply bad at pass pro. Our line calls ( made by Mike Miranda, when he’s in the game) are not always so great. And, since the graduation of Chris Godwin, DaeSean Hamilton, and Saeed Blacknall - none of our receivers can block a paper bag. These things are known.
The stunning part, of course, was Seth’s overall praise for the defense. Shaka Toney, Jayson Oweh, and PJ Mustipher got individual praise, for good reasons. Still, reading anything nice about the PSU defense this season caught us completely off guard.
To his credit, Seth notes within his conclusion that the PSU defense plays substantially less than the sum of the parts would suggest. Right on, brother. Right on. But that astute point came only at the end of 3,000 words. Lest anyone read Seth’s review of the PSU defense and confuse his assessment as an uninterrupted praise fest, we’ll spend our 1500 words resetting the discussion.
Kill The Lights
You are looking at 3rd down and 8 yards to go for the Iowa Hog-guys early in the 1st quarter. More specifically, you’re looking at the routes the 5 Hawkeye ball threats will execute on this play. Iowa’s quarterback will make a pre-snap read of PSU’s version of Nick Saban’s Rip/Liz Cover 3 hybrid and set his progressions based on the easy, easy tell. We’ve labeled these 1 (TE dig), 2 (checkdown to shallow cross), and 3 (bombs away / throw it away to the slot fade).
In the picture below, you can see the general responsibilities for PSU’s back seven in this hybrid Cover 3 look. Keaton Ellis is locked into man coverage. Lamont Wade, Jaquan Brisker, and Joey Porter Jr each have deep third responsibilities, with Jesse Luketa, Ellis Brooks, and Daequan Hardy sitting on underneath routes in their respective zones. Given that it’s 3rd and 8, and Iowa’s QB Spencer Petras is not Braxton Miller, Skaka + Oweh + Mustipher should ensure that the ball comes out in less than 3 seconds, if it comes out at all.
Confident in his easy pre-snap diagnosis, QB Petras looks away from his first read - a nice touch from a QB making his 4th career appearance. Immediately below the look off, you’ll see the Iowa RB give a quick nod at helping his right tackle against Shaka Toney, before releasing into his drag route. Your attention, though, should be directed toward the two large yellow circles. These circles show Iowa’s TE getting a free release at the line of scrimmage, drawing zero attention from WLB Luketa, and bending his route toward Joey Porter Jr’s deep third. Jaquan Brisker, 12 yards deep at the snap, dutifully practices his back pedal read steps.
The Hawkeye pocket is a thing of beauty, not just keeping Petras clean, but affording a ton of vision downfield. At the top of the picture everything appears to be going well for the Blue and White. Ellis is firmly latched onto the outside receiver’s stop route. Hardy has given a jam on the slot fade, and is passing the slot fade off to Lamont. Underneath, the shallow crossers are running free and clear, which is not great. But they’re four yards short of the sticks. So long as we tackle well, we’ll get off the field. Circled in yellow, we see Iowa’s deepest receiver is that TE who received no shoves, and not so much as even a wave of the hand in his direction. The two star slow white guy has already cleared 10 yards of ground and is about to make his “in” cut.
Yes, you’re viewing the picture below correctly. The ball has been released and is en route to its destination. The 2-star afterthought has somehow created a sizeable cushion on Porter Jr, and safety Jaquan Brisker - without any other pass catching threats within 30 yards of him - is not yet in the frame.
Ah, at last - there’s Brisker. Yes, the TE “created” that much separation on a 12-15 yard dig route, in less than 3 seconds.
Petras, of course, is still making only his 5th start. The ball is behind the slow white TE, who must leap and twist against his momentum to secure it. This leaping and twisting for a not-so-accurately thrown ball is not an issue, though, when no PSU defender is close enough to contest it.
Here’s the full five seconds below for your disgruntlement.
Hit The Lights
A plodding Clydesdale gets that wide open against smaller, faster, more fluid, more highly rated defenders for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons is that he got a free release at the line of scrimmage. Another reason is that he received no chuck - or any attention at all - from our WLB / flat defender. A third reason, we suppose, is by design. An in-cutting receiver (i.e., one who is leaving Porter’s responsibility and entering Brisker’s) isn’t going to draw Porter’s foot speed in the same way that it might if the coverage was man, rather than zone. Dig routes have destroyed zone defenses since the 1970s.
The bigger picture reasons - which we’re loathe to mention, but, you know, 0-5 zaps any convenient excuses for continuing to ignore the obvious - are lack of focus and a boat load of hesitance. Playing zone gives the deep defenders a full view of everything developing in front of them. Brisker watched all of that from the comfort of 20 yards deep. He’s probably seen dig routes from back there about 10,000 times by now. That this one was being run not by a thoroughbred, but by a gigantic Amish plow horse, on 3rd and long - with no other ball threats within 30 yards of him - really ought to have influenced how he approached his coverage.
A great play would have resulted in a pick. A good play would have been a pass break up. A meh play would’ve been at least contested - perhaps the Clydesdale with hooves in place of hands would have still come down with the ball, perhaps not. But at least make him work for it. Instead, our hesitance and lack of focus gave the young Hog-guy QB and his ogre TE what will surely be one of the easiest pitch-and-catches of their lives (as well as a fresh set of downs).
It’s been the strangest season in Film Room’s memory, and we’re not even referencing The Corona. This defense plays without focus and full of hesitation in the first half whilst giving up 30+ points. Then, in the second half, having finally gotten their attention and relieved the threat of embarrassment (since they’re already embarrassed), they focus for 5 seconds at a time, stop thinking, and play lights out (comparatively).
You’d like to think that, at some point, this all comes together simply by letting go. Hopefully as early as Saturday at Noon ET. We’ve already captured the worst start in skool history, as well as the national record for most disgraceful fall from the AP poll, ever. Forget the mental demons and just let it fly, gents. There’s nothing left to lose. But, there’s only 3 games left, too. So maybe it doesn’t change. Surely hasn’t yet.