Previously: The Offense
In 2016 a banged up, still-forming Penn State team came to Ann Arbor starting a too-small DT, a too-small CB, and whatever they could scrounge up at linebacker, which turned out to be a guy who looked like a tight end, a walk-on they found on the wrestling team, and a safety who converted to 4-3 under SAM that week. Last year none of them were full-time starters (the TE-shaped man and the safety platooned at SAM). Now they are again.
Penn State's defense graduated a lot of guys and is hanging in there thanks to a 15th-ranked pass defense to S&P+. And finally, for once, the stats accurately describe the team you see on film. They have found some decent pieces among the new guys, but since their only true linebacker is a redshirt freshman (and not ready for extended play) they are having to play the linebackers hyper-aggressively against the run. In due course their safeties are substantially more chill. That results in the 54th run defense but the 19th in stuff rate--either they'll get you down after 1 or 2 yards, or you'll get 11 or 12 beneath the shell. Their pass defense has been helped by rain and comically bad quarterbacking (especially Nate Stanley last week), but Bill C thinks they've got terrible turnover luck and that evens things out. After watching a few games and charting the dumbest one, I think the defense has the same profile as the offense: linebackers chasing things that don't exist, and nobody can catch a dang ball.
The Film: Heh. I went with Iowa. Yeah the one in the rain last week with Nate Stanley throwing everything to Tacopants and Nachoshorts. The one where the punter threw a touchdown pass to a lineman, and Iowa threw an interception near the endzone because Fant didn't think he had to play football that moment. At one point Iowa's center snapped it into Stanley's balls when he wasn't expecting it, and that doesn't make the top three worst snaps in the game. I did this because the rest of their Big Ten competition so far has been Ohio State, Michigan State, and Indiana. Plus I only got to listen to this game on the radio last Saturday and needed a reason to watch it. Also they have functional tight ends. Most of the time.
So a week before this the backup DE Shaka Toney was PFF's player of the week. He's a slippery pass rusher but the guys he's behind deserve to be ahead of him. DE Shareef Miller belongs on the weakside but they're using more wide fronts now that let him play like an MSU DE or dive inside. The reason Miller's out there is sophomore DE Yetur Gross-Matos, a top-200 player last year, has bulked up and exploded, leading the team with 12.5 TFLs and 6 sacks. It's graduation day.
On the inside are a couple of light DTs with good rip moves. This makes 3T Kevin Givens a true dangerman in a future Dwumfour way—he is not a nose. NT Robert Windsor is another Dwumfourish character but that's less forgivable where he plays. Windsor is either moving guys backwards or getting blown down five yards—I came close to both cyan'ing and starring him in the course of this scout. Their shared backup Fred Hansard is out for the season after a play that should keep us the solidly second-most hated team in Michigan to PSU fans. That hurts: NT Antonio Shelton is big but plays high, and true freshman blue chip (74th in the 247 composite) DT PJ Mustipher is not quite ready.
The outside linebackers are the pair who used to platoon the hybrid spot. SAM Cam Brown is still a most unusual dude who can match a Gentry for height and speed and struggles in tackling. Former safety/WLB Koa Farmer bulked up to play inside but that just removed his speed and subjected him to blocks he was never meant to handle. MLB Jan Johnson is a former walk-on they borrowed from the wrestling team way back during Linebackergeddon'15. He's starting after an offseason of trying to slip Manny Bowen back onto the team without the serious academic people noticing (Narrator: They did.), and toying with whether their 5-star WDE prospect might be a secret Mike (Narrator: He wasn't.). The latter is nominal SAM Micah Parsons, this year's #7 overall prospect to 247, who this year more or less a Mario Ojemudia-in-high-school-style defensive tackle on passing downs. Fellow edge specialist DE/OLB Shane Simmons also rotates in on pass rush packages. Freshman MLB Ellis Brooks was a low 4-star and gets some run but hasn't played enough yet for me to get a read on him. Also he's behind all of that.
[after THE JUMP: the good part]
The secondary has a Dude and some guys. The dude is CB Amani Oruwariye, who will get his in the Dangerman section below. Not-really 5-10 CB John Reid has played a lot of football (and has another year of eligibility after taking a medshirt last season) and started over both Oruwariye and 2018 6th rounder Christian Campbell in 2016 because reasons. On film he's not good enough to explain that decision, but he's well beyond adequate—Blake Countess is the comp that comes to mind.
The backup DBs are hidden until they can't be--Iowa spent its final drive attacking backup CB Tariq Castro-Fields with middling success. Tiny nickel Donovan Johnson is only used on passing downs when one of the top three corners is off the field, and always at nickel. Their normal nickel package puts Castro-Fields outside and Reid in the slot.
The safeties are new but not that new since they're a redshirt junior and redshirt senior. SS Garret Taylor is boring except for the occasional bad angle and bad tackle, but he's a top-250 athlete who was making life difficult on the tight ends. FS Nick Scott, a Michigan running back prospect from long ago, is more eventful. They've been solid against every comer except the one built to kill your safeties with demonic slot receivers, says PFF:
Save for the Ohio State game, the coverage for the Nittany Lions has also been stellar in all but one game this season as well. Brent Pry’s defense has not posted a grade below 74.0 except against Ohio State. The safety duo of Nick Scott and Garrett Taylor have allowed a combined nine receptions for 92 yards and Taylor has chipped in two interceptions. Scott’s passer rating of 50.8 when targeted is only bested by Taylor’s of 21.2.
Base Set: I can't decide if they're officially not a 4-3 under anymore.
They aligned in an Even (wide) or Over (like Michigan does) far more often, but they also slant a ton to get back to those under gap assignments. It reminds me of the 2015 strategy. And Under is still over 25% of their snaps. So "Multiple" it is.
|2018 PSU vs Iowa||PERSONNEL||SAFETIES||RUSHERS|
Also there was one true 3-4 one time. It's filed with the 3-3-5s. I didn't file the goal line stand or the defense against the fake field goal where the punter threw a TD to a defensive tackle (otherwise known as an "Iowa" but you should see it anyway:
They keep two safeties back most plays and don't mind playing Oruwariye like an outside linebacker. Their splits were virtually identical to Michigan State's.
Man or zone coverage: They've switched to more of a true Cover 2 this year to better fit their personnel. The linebackers are going to be sucking up against any and all run action so the safeties have to take on most of the #2 receiver coverage. But the real stress in a Cover 2 is on the cornerbacks, and I think that's why they went this route. Oruwariye is their best defender and a master at breaking on your passes to a guy who appears open underneath him. Reid is their most experienced guy.
Pressure: GERG or GREG: Pretty GERG, with a caveat:
They bring four on almost every down. On passing downs they run a bunch of different stunts. Blitzes are either the SAM off the edge, or an exotic:
They generally trust the pass rushers to get through, and when they're all on the field together that's usually true. It wasn't a slaughter versus Iowa but I had plenty of clips.
The caveat is they bring their linebackers screaming down on anything that looks like a run.
I charted this and wondered if I should stop. The tally for 35 runs (not counting draws), play-actions and RPOs was 22 hard bites, 6 medium bites, and 7 no dice, and those mostly accumulated near the end of the game. The above reaction, especially to anything under center, was the norm. They get away with it by attacking so hard it feels like a blitz and the quarterback gets sped up, and those cover 2 DBs are expecting it and break. It may not be a tenable way to play--Ohio State certainly found the middle appetizing enough to feast on screens all day.
Dangerman: I was really hoping this was PFF overrating a guy because they've been a little bonkers this year, but nope: Cornerback Amani Oruwariye is the best cornerback in the conference. Oddly he wasn't technically a starter last year, but he was their highest-rated back seven defender and All-B1G 2nd team, and out there enough I consider him a returning starter. In the first eight weeks of this season he played himself into the 1st round to PFF:
27. AMANI ORUWARIYE, PENN STATE – CORNERBACK
Week 3 Draft Board rank: 27th (no change)
Oruwariye has seen 54 targets this season, fourth-most in the FBS and has broken up eight passes and intercepted two more.
That's ahead of anyone on Michigan's defense, FYI, and if anything it sells him short because half of those broken up passes were balls he should have intercepted against Michigan State. That is a signature move. He is #21 below, and will disappear off your screen then reappear with the minimal number of frames.
A 6-2 athlete who can tackle and break in Cover 2 better than a lot of pros is a problem the likes of which we haven't faced this year, and we're too sick and twisted to have any remorse for the opponents Michigan's done that to. I suggest we stick to Reid's size.
Of the many defensive ends I shouldn't have been surprised my favorite would be Yetur Gross-Matos not the preseason all-conference candidate. Iowa has a decent left tackle (especially for this conference) and you wouldn't know it from his day against YGM:
#99 the DE on the top of the line
That's on a (clock-hurried) 2nd down. You should see him when they give him a wide 9 and he really peels his ears back:
#99 the DE on the bottom of the D line
Finally I think we've found a team Michigan matches up well against. Not the tight ends: Penn State is the one team not in the NFL that seems actually built to stop you from killing them with fleet-footed giants and Iowa's stellar pair had an awful day. I mean running Higdon down the hash marks.
The defensive ends are athletic freaks but young, and might not yet be fully prepared for a complete option game. The linebackers scream into their gaps at any run action but Harbaugh has successfully punished that kind of behavior all season. Teams with good middle linebackers have kept Michigan's run game in check, and that's the one thing Penn State is sorely lacking. Meanwhile those DTs are good at penetration but Iowa managed to put them on skates more than a few times.
Ignore the linebacker who gets a face full of fullback for a second and watch #54 the nose tackle lined up on the hashmark:
He's not a cyan candidate because of the pass rush he offers but give Michigan's offensive line a nose tackle they can double to the 1st down marker and a walk-on linebacker (#36 above) and we could be in business.
On the other hand, we don't want anything to do with that pass rush. It's not just the three defensive ends who terrorized Ohio State's edge protection--the interior pass rush generates a lot of forced throws and bounces into the afore mentioned hellscreamers.
Finally this probably can't happen again but you tuned in for Iowa-Penn State clips; you should get something to make the hairy sweatshirt ad worth it.