There were some great things that stuck out after re-watching the game film. Much of the great play on Saturday came from members of Penn State’s 2020 recruiting class. James Franklin is getting a great deal of on-field production from the group. The true freshmen led the way in many cases, literally and figuratively, to the win. Tight end Theo Johnson surprised with his blocking on the edge.
With Devyn Ford unavailable for the game the Lions were left with backs 4 and 5 on the preseason depth chart. Caziah Holmes and Keyvonne Lee showed why the running back position will be strong moving forward, this season and beyond.
Cody will take it from here.
Offensive Snap Counts (total 81):
- QB: Clifford - 74, Levis - 7
- RB: Lee - 59, Holmes - 21
- WR: Dotson - 70, Washington - 63, KeAndre Lambert-Smith - 31, George - 19, Lutz - 13, Cam Sullivan-Brown - 6, Jones - 5
- TE: Strange - 71, Johnson - 33, Kuntz - 3
- OL: Menet - 81, Walker - 81, Fries - 81, Miranda - 64, Wallace - 58, Scruggs - 28, Thorpe - 23
Offensive Personnel Takeaways:
- The Levis Package is interesting with Juice Scruggs lined up as a TE, Theo Johnson as a wing or in-line TE, and Brenton Strange manning the FB/HBack role. Keyvone Lee and Daniel George were lined up as WRs on each of those plays, meaning George is likely the best blocking WR. Will Levis got the necessary yardage on every play.
- Also, I’m going to cut Keyvone Lee a small break for his false start (in Levis Package) since it was his first snap lined up as a WR in the season and he was motioning to Levis to hurry up and snap when UM had too many men on the field for a guaranteed first down. Then he moved too soon. If not for the false start, Levis may have scored a TD on that play with only a safety to beat.
- Welcome to the party Zack Kuntz. PSU is 1-0 when Zack Kuntz plays, I’m sure the commenters won’t draw conclusions.
- When Scruggs was at TE with Levis at quarterback it signaled that is was a run play. When Sean Clifford was at QB Penn State ran mass protect RPOs.
Defensive Snap Counts (60 total):
- DE: Oweh - 48, Toney - 48, Isaac - 13, Simmons - 9, Tarburton - 2
- DT: Mustipher - 44, Shelton - 42, Beamon - 25, Culpepper - 8
- LB: Brooks - 49, Luketa - 49, Smith - 43, Dixon - 22, Jacobs - 2
- CB: Joey Porter Jr. - 54, Wilson - 53, Hardy - 25
- S: Brisker - 56, Wade - 47, Brown - 13, Sutherland - 8
Defensive Personnel Takeaways:
- We had our first sighting of Brandon Smith - Jesse Luketa - Lance Dixon in 2020 for 11 snaps. No Charlie Katshir meant Luketa moved to MLB with Brooks off the field.
- No big Fred Hansard who left the field vs Iowa.
- No Keaton Ellis or TCF again, it has to be an injury for Ellis since he warmed up and was on the sideline. TCF was in street clothes.
- Clifford: On Target - 14, Catchable - 5, Miss - 1, Uncatchable - 4, Throwaway/Batted/Spike - 5
- Keyvone Lee might not be that fast and may have a short stride but he is a success rate RB. If it’s blocked, he gets it. If it’s not blocked, he still gets something. He showed vision on both big runs and throughout the game made the right run read. Caziah Holmes showed some good today (great spin move to get extra yardage), but Lee is the workhorse for the remainder of the season because he keeps the offense on schedule. It was PSU’s most successful running game of 2020 and RBs had a lot to do with that. Lee will only improve with more help from strength training coach Dwight Galt too, he’s a bit heavy and has a short stride. He never really worked out or trained hard until enrolling in the summer at Penn State. He’s going to get compared to a bunch of old-school grinders that always fall forward, but I think he can become more explosive and he caught 7 passes just last game.
- Parker Washington’s scouting report is so consistent. He’s going to run good routes, catch the ball with his hands, and turn into a RB once he has the ball. He’s also going to be overthrown on a few slot-fade routes per game.
- Last week I said Theo Johnson was a decent blocker. This week he was a difference maker as a blocker. He made a few key blocks on the first TD drive for Lee. He lined up primarily as an in-line TE this game allowing Strange to be the winger/H-back. He used his athleticism to get into position and he efforted the hell out of each play. Coming from Canada as a big WR there were a lot of questions in my mind whether he’d be a traditional TE or more of a Kyle Pitts type. Questions no more, he’s blocking better than Freiermuth did as a true freshman. He blocked on Lee’s 23yd run, he blocked on Levis’ TD run, he blocked on Levis game ending 3rd down conversion, etc. Dude blocked well all day, he’s earning the playing time and will profit in the pass game. He pancaked guys, pushed guys 8yds downfield, sealed guys, and just got dirty in the run game. Helluva game for him.
- You’ll notice the first three positive points of offensive analysis are all true freshmen. Still think the 2020 class was under-achieving? You have to wait to see what the recruits can do on the field before making judgements on their talent.
- I really liked the simple design on the 6th drive where they went empty 2x3 and motioned Lutz over to the trips side with no defender following him (zone). PSU had Washington, Strange & KLS blocking immediately since the pass was behind the LoS. Only a 2yd gain but use Washington in that receiving role in the future with George, Strange & one other WR and it could hit for a big play. It’s also an easy pass for Clifford to make and low risk.
- The OL had their best game of the season. Outside of the one DL stunt that had Caedan Wallace trying to block two guys they really didn’t allow much pressure on Clifford. There were a few plays a defender may have altered the throw but not a bad day overall. Run blocking was also better, they may be getting into the zone blocking groove with a RB who is comfortable as well. Should be noted that Scruggs & Thorpe were OGs on 2/3 TD drives. Scruggs lined up as an in-line TE to max protect and/or lead block harkens back to Ciarrocca’s Minnesota offense. He may be getting comfortable with his personnel too.
- Speaking of Ciarrocca, what is the plan in the red zone? This might surprise people but PSU’s 3rd down conversion rate is great but the red zone scoring is pathetic. Why spike when the clock is stopped for 1st down and waste a play? Why are fades to sub-6’ receivers the primary option? There’s neither rhyme nor reason to their incompetence in that area of the field, Ciarrocca needs to step up big time.
- Clifford played within the offense and the offense was called to make it easy for him. A game manager kind of day. He didn’t panic. Didn’t rush things. Zero completions past 15yds in air isn’t something to praise too greatly. He can run though.
- Finally, I’m not sure if it’s a QB thing, OC thing, or HC thing but PSU never takes advantage of free plays. If PSU is ready to snap and Michigan is running guys onto and off of the field, snap the ball for a free 5yds and maybe a deep shot to Dotson. They had multiple opportunities but never snapped. Getting the “perfect play” called is fine and dandy but that should be a max protect, hot route call every team has for that situation. Or if it’s the interior DL running onto the field, snap the ball and give it to the RB where he can get to the second level untouched.
- You want to know what’s been wrong with the PSU defense in 2020? See below. One of the DL gets manhandled (in this case PJ Mustipher), the LBs cover the wrong gaps (Brooks), Smith & DBs are backpedaling in coverage, and the S misses a tackle (Wade). Ta-da, big play.
- Hakeem Beamon has a bright, bright future. He can get into the backfield in a blink and shows great strength at times when he’s low man. Also got pancaked a couple times, if he’s not low man his lack of mass hurts him.
- Here’s my rant for the week. Ellis Brooks should not be starting at MLB for Penn State. He’s not athletic enough to keep making poor reads, and he hasn’t improved at all. Oh and he gets run over at the goal line like a tackling dummy some dad propped against his leg while texting his buddy a picture of his son in football pads and #SaturdaysForTheBoyz. I am sure that Smith at SAM and Dixon at WILL goes back to when Parsons was still expected to play and Luketa was battling Brooks for MLB. Brent Pry had lots of time after Parsons’ announcement to adjust and he has not. Moving Luketa out to WILL was an experience over talent decision. The experience isn’t helping with Brooks though, so get talent on the field. Lance Dixon is not built to play in the box, Ellis Brooks should not be playing, and Brandon Smith is good at SAM but is near 250 and could easily play inside. We finally saw Smith - Luketa - Dixon this game but the Smith-Dixon roles should flip. It’s not complicated, get your best players on the field at their best position.
- I’ve seen by rules analysts that the Shaka Toney “illegal batted ball” was actually a wrong call because his arm made a sideways motion and not a push one plus the ball didn’t go forward very far. All I’ll say is, how dumb is the rule and how lacking is the ref’s judgement that made that call? Ridiculous.
- I have no idea how Jayson Oweh doesn’t have a sack but maybe that means he will return for ‘21. His run defense has been very good and he’s always getting pressure.