Fee Fi Foe Film: Penn State Offense Comment Count

Ace September 21st, 2016 at 3:09 PM

The Aristocrats!

Penn State desperately needed changes at offensive coordinator and quarterback after the last few years of horrible offenses, and they've upgraded those spots with former Fordham head coach Joe Moorhead and redshirt sophomore Trace McSorely. Add in star running back Saquon Barkley and the bucket of points scored against Pitt and you'd think this offense has probably undergone a transformation, right?

After watching the Temple game, it certainly doesn't feel that way. PSU's blocking continues to undermine everything they try to do; even a huge play like the bomb to tight end Mike Gesicki embedded at the top of this post involves PSU allowing immediate pressure on a three-man rush.

This offense isn't the same as previous years; at least against Temple, it essentially functioned the same anyway.

Personnel. Seth's diagram [click to embiggen]:

It was difficult to select key backups for this game because PSU simply does not rotate their receivers or tight ends. When Barkley isn't dinged up, they hardly substitute at all. Godwin/Hamilton/Thompkins/Gesicki played every meaningful snap in this one as best I could tell.

As always, the diagram is not gospel: we don't know for sure if Taco Charlton and Jourdan Lewis are going to play, though it seems very likely for the former and looking good so far for the latter. No, Ryan Glasgow still isn't getting first-round NFL draft hype, hence the continued lack of a shield even though he's M's best defensive lineman.

Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Spread. Literally every snap came from the gun.

Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? Mostly zone blocking.

Hurry it up or grind it out? PSU doesn't usually huddle but they also don't push the pace at the line, instead taking time to survey the defense and make checks. They're 105th in adjusted pace and don't look capable of tempoing Michigan like UCF and Colorado.

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]

Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): PSU used McSorely as a runner a couple times but more to keep the defense honest than anything else; he's only averaging 3.0 yards per non-sack carry. He didn't look particularly fast or shifty against Temple, though he managed one nice first-down pickup on a scramble when pressure got by him. He's far more mobile than Christian Hackenberg, which comes in handy behind this O-line, but he needs defenders to lose their lanes/contain to make something happen on the ground. He gets a 5.

Dangerman: Saquon Barkley remains very, very good. He missed a healthy portion of this game with an apparent ankle injury, but when he returned, he effectively put the game away on one of the only plays the OL provided any room to operate:

That covered 55 yards. Barkley's eight other carries went for 20. He's a remarkably good running back, but he isn't Superman, and the power of flight appears to be the only way to routinely produce decent yardage behind this OL.

Wideout Chris Godwin also merits mention here. He's a strapping 6'1", 205 pounds with good speed, run-after-catch ability, and ball skills. His 52-yard touchdown to open the scoring in this game was mostly the product of a Temple coverage bust, but he also looked impressive working over the middle.

Zook Factor: Penn State did punt from the Temple 33 in this game, albeit on a 4th-and-ten that they downed at the one. James Franklin even got a little aggressive on fourth downs near midfield, with PSU converting both of their tries. He is still James Franklin, though, and that means you can expect a perplexing game management decision or three.

HenneChart: McSorely looks like a young QB playing behind a bad line, but for the most part he came out to the good in this one:

Temple 1 10 (4) 2 3* (2) 2 2 -- 3 2 67%

He had a few really impressive throws in this game, including a couple slants he squeezed into tight windows, and his mobility was a necessary asset when pressure arrived. He also nearly threw a two picks on ill-advised throws with linebackers bracketing the intended receiver and scrambled for little gain out of some clean pockets; a lot of his yardage in this game came on YAC after wideouts broke awful tackle attempts and that heave to Gesicki. He also Hackenberg'd a couple screens, throwing one well wide of Gesicki and another that actually counted as a fumble:

That is a bubble screen to Tacopants that hit the sideline hash mark on the fly; it lost six yards, and the pressure wasn't relevant to the throw. I also had a hard time figuring out how to file McSorely's pick, which looked to come on a miscommunication with DaeSean Hamilton—either that or McSorely is several yards off on this throw:

Either way, PSU's downfield passing game isn't reliable when the defense isn't blowing coverages.


Like I said, literally every snap came from the gun:

Formations Run Pass PA
Gun 25 22 10
I-Form -- -- --
Ace -- -- --
Pistol -- -- --
Heavy -- -- --

PSU was run-heavy on first down, especially since a good portion of those PAs are RPOs or screens.

Down Run Pass PA
1st 13 6 7
2nd 7 11 2
3rd 5 5 1

This makes it look like PSU got into a lot of third-and-manageables, which is not the case; as BryMac pointed out in our chat today, their yards-to-go on 3rd down were 11, 11, 9, 9,  8, 14, 23, 9, and 7. PSU converted just two of nine; because Temple isn't very good, one of those came on a third-and-11 RB draw early on, and the other when Temple committed back-to-back encroachment penalties on what was initially a third-and-eight.

We've got the numbers from Pro Football Focus again, and they paint quite a picture on Penn State's blocking. Every starting OL has a grade at least 1.5 points to the negative, with left guard Ryan Bates an incredible -9.4 on the year, almost entirely due to horrible run-blocking. The only OL with a positive run-blocking grade, left tackle Brendan Mahon, has their worst pass-blocking grade; he's allowed two sacks, four hurries, and an additional QB hit on his own this year, and right tackle Andrew Nelson is faring little better in that department. In addition, Gesicki has a shockingly terrible -8.5 run grade on the year, and after watching this game I maintain he's the worst blocking TE I've ever seen, including pre-position-switch Devin Funchess.

I'll be honest: I felt bad clipping some of these. Watch the H-back, Gesicki (#88) on this one:

The right guard starts to lose his block at the end, but there's still a crease to be made there if Gesicki makes any sort of forceful contact with the linebacker; he does not, and PSU ends up getting bailed out only by an unneccessary facemask by Temple.

This TFL is on Mahon (LT #70), who, again, is PSU's top-graded run blocker:

This one features another Gesicki whiff and a lineman pulling into no-man's land. You get the point: run-blocking is awful.

Pass-blocking wasn't much better. The Gesicki bomb came only after McSorely escaped pressure from a three-man rush. Temple could sit back on passing downs and still create "pockets" like this on a four-man rush:

McSorely did well there just to make it three yards past the line of scrimmage; at no point during this play did he have the ability to set up and look downfield.

As if the blocking issues weren't enough, center Brian Gaia—who moved to C from RG this year—and McSorely combined to fumble two snaps. One was well wide from Gaia; the other a flat-out drop by McSorely.

As a result of all that, it's hard to break down the skill position players too much, at least based on one game. Godwin and DeAndre Thompkins are both grading out well as receivers, while Hamilton is still a good screen and short-pass threat; he ran through an (awful) ankle tackle on a five-yard flat route and turned it into a 45-yard gain.

The non-Barkley running backs shouldn't come into play much as long as he's healthy. If they do, it'll be a huge downgrade. PSU worked three different backs into the game when Barkley went out; Andre Robinson and Mark Allen averaged 3.4 yards on their 12 carries, while five-star freshman Miles Sanders had one 19-yard gain to the edge, then promptly lost a fumble of his next (and final) carry. PSU's best hope here is to connect on a couple deep pass plays, avoid turnovers, and hope Barkley gets enough space to make his incredible open-field running relevant.


While PSU's offense still doesn't look good, Moorhead's influence is apparent. Penn State ran a few run-pass options in this game, including a zone/slant combo that could give M some problems based on what we saw last week. PSU starts this play in their standard three-wide set:

Even before the snap, the pass becomes more palatable than the run, as Temple's linebackers both tip blitz:

At the snap, PSU's linemen take a zone step to the left, while Gesicki comes across the formation to pick off the backside—note that McSorely is staring down the cornerback at the top of the screen:

With the inside give likely to go nowhere, McSorely pulls, and I'm assuming he has the option to run if he wants—a big tipoff that this is a RPO and not simple play-action is the left guard (#52) starts working to the second level to block the DE who dropped off the line when the LBs blitzed:

With the cornerback maintaining outside leverage and safety help so far away it's barely in the picture on the completion, McSorely has an easy read, clearing the second level and hitting Godwin on the slant for a first down:


PSU hit a variation on this for another first down later in the game. Michigan's safeties won't be playing in the parking lot like Temple's, which should make this harder, but I don't have to remind you how much M struggled defending screens last week.

The good news is PSU won't catch M in bad alignments as much as Colorado; they don't push the pace enough to do so, and their offense isn't quite as creative at this point. Given the state of PSU's OL, it's hard to say this will be anything but a big win for Michigan on this side of the ball, even if Barkley gets loose a couple times.


SoDak Blues

September 21st, 2016 at 3:32 PM ^

Anybody else read this and cackle with knowing glee? I would not want to be McSorley.

EDIT: He is going to be Mc"Sore"ley on Sunday! Sorry, I absolutely could not help myself. 


September 21st, 2016 at 3:31 PM ^

I think the second to last paragraph should read "I don't have to remind you how much M struggled defending slants [instead of screens] last week.'


September 21st, 2016 at 3:34 PM ^

Things that scare me about PSU: busted coverages on downfield heaves and losing contain rushing the passes. Barkley should scare me I suppose, but I just done think he'll break the defense. He may get some yards, but the front seven will make things to difficult like last year.

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September 21st, 2016 at 3:37 PM ^

Haven't watched every Penn State game but thought McSorley was a decent QB. He threw a few nice balls down the field in the games that I saw. I was also impressed by Godwin.

Admittedly, I have a tendency to overrate opponents.

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September 21st, 2016 at 3:42 PM ^

I'm still pretty confident Colorado is a better team than Penn state. Throw in Jourdan Lewis maybe being back and I see a 40-10 type game here.


September 21st, 2016 at 3:48 PM ^

Hopefully the Lewis is back news turns out to be true. I'd feel much better having him locking down a slot receiver than relying on LBs and Safeties to cover the middle in zone coverage. Quick hitters are about the only thing Penn State is going to be able to do against this defense and DL, and if we take those away it should be a long day for them. 


September 21st, 2016 at 3:59 PM ^

I got the feeling last week that our alignment was the issue on the play action inside slants that were run rather than being tempo'd.  Colorado hit those passes regularly in the first half, and some were wide open. I think one went for ~50 yards after the safety missed the tackle.  

But in the 2nd half it felt like the window over the middle was much smaller, and the throws were more difficult.   I'm sure this was partly due to the line getting pressure.  

But UCF ran the same play multiple times with success, so I'm sure PSU will be testing us as well.


September 21st, 2016 at 4:11 PM ^

This is the 4th straight spread offense team michigan is facing? If you want to include tOsu and UF from last season, then it is the 6th straight spread team we are facing.


September 21st, 2016 at 5:40 PM ^

This will be a massacre... we match up perfectly to do everything we want to do, AND we have almost everyone back while they are all hurt. What's our area of weakness compared to them? Punt coverage?


September 22nd, 2016 at 8:35 AM ^

This was the game I earmarked in the summer and made sure I had tickets. The last time PSU was in the Big House we wore the dark jerseys and it was a fantastic game in a season that was less than great. Our DLine is foaming at the mouth to take on these guys, and I shudder to think about what a horrible afternoon McSorley and Barkley will have getting blasted over and over again. They will try us deep several times because that worked last week. The fact that we get JLew back is just a game changer. He is a pimp and I can't wait to see Taco out there as well. This whole article just spells impending DOOM for the PSU offense. I think we put out the QB in the 3rd QTR again and send a message this weekend. Then we stomp Whiskey next week. Mwah ha ha ha ha! (Tents fingers)

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September 22nd, 2016 at 9:43 AM ^

Man, watching that play with Gesicki trying to block someone in the hole looked like a Breaking Madden clip where the player's Awareness is turned down to 0. He didn't identify anyone, didn't touch anyone, and just kind of looked around for something to do.


September 22nd, 2016 at 10:59 AM ^

i get that this is a homer blog and I also believe Michigan will win the game. That said, it is pretty irresponsible of you to make it seem like the Penn State offense has been the problem like youve done in this article. It will be a shootout. Penn State's offense is much improved. The defense, with all 3 starting LBs out, will be the problem area for Penn State. 0 sacks were given up last week...just saying