Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Penn State Preview: Penn State's Offense vs. OSU's Defense: UPDATED PART II

My first time undertaking a preview. I'm going to structure this essentially as a scouting report.  I will focus first on Penn State's schematic approach, followed by a breakdown of their strength and weaknesses, and finally address how Penn State may approach playing Ohio State's defense and how Ohio State will counter.


Penn State's offensive approach mirrors Ohio State's in numerous ways.   It is built around the following features:

1.  They are 'pro-style' in terms of their formations and personnel.  Penn State generally lines up under center in one-back 2 x 2 (two tight ends with two wide receivers) or 3 x 1 (three wide receivers with one tight end) formations, with some I sprinkled in.

2.  Their bread and butter is the inside zone running game with playaction and bootlegs off of that action (sound familiar?).  They are primarily a zone running team.  As Chris Brown states , the zone run game
focuses on double-teams at the point of attack and gives the runningback freedom to hit it playside or cutback; wherever the crease is. This kind of running works well from one-back sets and multiple formations, since it doesn't require (though it can use) a lead-blocker and the rules for the linemen stay the same regardless of whether there are two tight-ends or four receivers in the game.
 3.  Penn State then likes to play action and bootleg off their zone runs.  What I really consider the 'core' of their offense is the following.  They like to motion their primary TE, No. 10 Quarless from a slot position across the formation to a wingback position on the TE side.  From there, they run lead zone to the side he motioned to, or an inside zone where he blocks back against the formation.  This latter action then sets up their bootleg because he just continues and releases into the flat.  So you see a lot of the following:

Penn St. will set up their inside zone game:

And then follow with bootlegs off that action:

 They also do quite a bit of sprint draw and sprint draw play action passing.  (H/T:  Blue-Gray Sky).

In general, they do a nice job making their play action passes look just their run plays and complement every run play with a pass (a must, IMO).

4.  Penn State likes to go to designed QB runs in third and medium in the hope that Clark can pick up the first down with his legs.   Against Iowa, they relied more and more on Clark to run as the game went on, showing this is what they fall back to in crunch time (again sound familiar?)

5.  They do not have a very extensive dropback passing game.  This is not to say they will not do it, but it is not their preferred mode of attack.  I believe this is largely a function of their two primary weaknesses a) their offensive line and b) their wide receiver corps.  I will discuss both in more detail below, but for now it suffices to say that for them play action, besides its general benefits, changes Clark's launching point to help out their line and gets the TE Quarless involved in the passing game, who I believe is their most consistent threat.

A discussion of Penn State's Personnel and how they match up with OSU, after the jump:


I would argue that, whatever the stats may say, Penn State's offense has struggled to consistently move the ball against decent competition.  Their inconsistency on offense largely flows from the issues below: 

1.  Penn State has had problems establishing a consistent running game in Big Ten play.  Even against Michigan they couldn't consistently run the ball and had to beat them through the air.   Evan Royster's stats are decieving because he will break off a big run or gain yards late in games.  For example, 41 of his 100 yards against Michigan came on one play.  Their inability to establish the run has prevented  them from stringing together long drives and increased their pass protection problems, discussed below. 
2.  Penn State's problems start up front.  Their line, particularly at the tackle position, has had trouble getting any consistency in run or pass protection.  Right Tackle has real been a spot of real weakness for them--they have tried different guys at the position, but none have performed well.  Iowa consistently beat them with a 4-man rush:

As you can see, Iowa's Defensive Ends were able to routinely beat PSU's tackles.  Because Iowa was able to get consistent pressure with their front four, they hardly blitzed and mainly sat in a cover-1 "robber" defense (a coverage where the defense man for man covers and then has a deep safety playing the middle of the field and a LBer playing zone underneath).

(h/t:  And even Michigan, despite the score, was still able to get constant pressure, particularly against Penn State's Right Tackle.  From everything I have seen, they have not been able to block edge rushers with any consistency and it is a real problem for them--Clark is under pressure more often than not.

UPDATE:  I just saw this on and found it obviously applicable here.  It is an example of one way Penn State will attack the "Cover 1 robber coverage with a "smash route."   It is a basic route that every team runs, but interesting to see its applicability here in light of how both Michigan and Iowa defensed them.  The difference is that PSU's WRs were unable to get open versus the Hawkeyes.

2.  Penn State also does not have any real playmakers in their WR corps.  Time and again Iowa's defensive backs were able to man up and shut down the PSU WRs.  So even when Clark did have some time he had trouble finding open men:

And they had trouble getting the ball down the field.  As such, they are reliant on their Tight End Quarless and the underneath passing game.    

3.  Clark and Royster are obviously their best playmakers. Royster is dangerous if he gets some blocking at the point of attack.  And Clark can make plays with his legs--Penn St makes it harder because you can't really gameplan for his running as they don't do it very often, only when necessary.  Clark is a very emotional player, which can work to his disadvantage if he starts getting pressured-he will start forcing balls and making bad decisions.

What to Look For This Weekend

1.   The definite advantage in this matchup goes to Ohio State.   I do not think Penn State can control the line of scrimmage and therefore will struggle all day moving the football.

2.  From Penn State's perspective, I have to believe they feel they are going to have a hard time establishing any running game on First and Second Down against OSU.  Their O-Line is not in the same league as USC's and they had difficulties running the football.

3.  I would therefore look for Penn State to come out and do a lot of playaction and bootlegs on First Down, trying to take advantage of the potential overagressiveness of Gibson and Williams on the backside edge and perhaps be able to spring a big play.  In so doing, they likely also hope to get Quarless snuck into areas vacated by linebackers playing run.  I would expect they will try and set up several screens to Royster.   

4.  I'm also guessing Clark may run the ball more than he has all year.  As I noted earlier, as the Iowa game wore on he began running more designed runs to try and gain yards.  I expect a similar approach to try and find a way to gain positive yards.

5.  What PSU wants to avoid at all costs is getting in known 3rd down passing situations.  They do not want their two tackles trying to block OSU's nickel look of Gibson and Williams:

In those situations I would look for Penn State to be fairly conservative, with some QB draws and screens to try to take advantage of OSU's aggressiveness, and rely on their defense to get them the ball back.

6.  From Ohio State's perspective their (IMO) ability to get both consistent pressure and penetration with their front four against Penn State's offensive line and matchup with Penn State's wide receivers provides them a lot of options.  I would expect Ohio State, like Iowa, to mix and match some zone with cover-1 robber on first and second down to get the safeties involved in the run game and eyes in the backfield.  If Ohio State can get pressure with their front four when Penn State does try to throw on First Down, then Penn State's in some real trouble.  Ohio State's goal will be to get Penn State in those second and third and long situations.  Then on Third Down, we will likely see a mix again of some cover-1 and some zone blitzing, as OSU likes to generally do in those situations.

7.  OSU's defense must create turnovers to help their offense  As stated, Clark will force balls and make bad decisions when he gets frustrated and feels pressure.  OSU needs to keep putting him on his back and make him force balls.  That is why getting him in passing situations is a must.

8.  As stated above, Ohio State's defense has a real advantage against Penn State's offense.  Penn State does not have adequate play at the tackle positions to slow down OSU's front, nor do they have the playmakers out wide to challenge OSU.  Penn State is going to have to rely on their defense to try and win the game.

Note:  I will later have a preview of Ohio State's Offense vs. Penn State's Defense. 

UPDATE PART II:  After being critiqued from some quarters by focusing too much on the Iowa game, I also wanted to give my thoughts from the Northwestern game, having watched Penn State's two most recent games.

1.  Penn State still has a lot of trouble establishing a running game when they need to.  Evan Royster ran 7 times for 17 yards in the first half.  Three different times through the first three quarters they were stopped on Second and Third and Short.

Generally each time Penn State would get penetration or linemen would miss assignments and stop the play for little or no gain.  In sum, Penn State has been moving the ball offensively through the air and has not been able to establish a running game until the game is at hand.

2.  As such, Penn State attacked entirely through the air until the game was in doubt.  Their Second Quarter scoring drive consisted of all pass plays.  Penn State continued to feature primarily play action passes.  They also threw nearly everything outside the hashes.  In particular, they really like throwing smash routes.  One thing I also saw is that against both Michigan and Northwestern they really liked throwing quick WR screens of all kinds, whether it be just one stop and throw, to bubble screens, to jailbreak screens (see below):

 3.  Penn State's receivers have obviously been getting more separation then they did against Iowa.  But is that improvement or the level of competition?  As I stated before, their receiving corps is decent, but not special.  None of their receivers are guys you are going to gameplan around.  As such, they had trouble putting Northwestern away until the Fourth Quarter. 


  1. great analysis! keep up the great work.

  2. You should think about your own OSU site. You do a better job of breaking down the games than any of the current sites and it is not even close. Find an insider and recruiting and you are golden. Great work.

  3. I really enjoyed this read. Looking forward to OSU offense vs. PSU defense.

  4. Where have you been all my OSU football watching life? Many thanks.

  5. Thanks guys I really appreciate it! Look for the OSU O v. PSU D preview this afternoon.

  6. Please keep doing this! This is great stuff!