Upon Further Review: PSU Defense

Submitted by Brian on October 20th, 2005 at 5:06 PM
Dn Ds Line Type Yards Notes
1 10 O20 Pass 9 Mason(-1) bites on the play action and Smolko's wide open.
2 1 O29 Run 5 End around to King. He gets the corner on Harris since the DBs to that side don't come off their blocks.
1 10 O34 Scramble 9 Five wide set here. Defense isn't too bad; the WR's route functions as a convenient block, otherwise Harris shuts this down quickly.
2 1 O43 Run 8 Burgess(-1) should make this tackle at the LOS, as the line holds very well.
1 10 M49 Run 11 Counter pitch play to Williams that Burgess(-1) gets faked out of his jock on. Can't be too hard on Burgess even though he got posterized as Williams is a tough guy to tackle. IBFC video.
1 10 M38 Run -1 Yeah, the fulback trap is not a good idea. Watson(+1) drives his man way into the backfield; FB cuts right into Woodley(+1) who crushes him.
2 11 M39 Run 3 Another option play here. Mason(+1) reads it and hops out on the pitch man. Adams(+1) comes up and makes a very solid tackle on Robinson.
3 8 M36 Pass 6 Adams(+1) hits Williams the instant he catches the ball and negates any possible YAC.
4 2 M30 Run 7 Mason(-1) doesn't read the play very quickly and is hestitant attacking the corner. By the time he gets there he can only make a weak wave at the tackle.
1 10 M23 Scramble 5 Three step chop and fire that Robinson pulls down because of Hall's(+1) coverage. He's flushed by Woodley and scrambles. Trent puts a good lick on him.
2 5 M18 Run 3 Shotgun hand off a la MSU. Harris and Graham plug up the hole.
3 2 M15 Run 1 Blitz of one guy into a QB draw. Branch(+2) closes it down and forces the FG attempt.
Drive Notes: Missed FG (32), 0-0 8 min 1st Q. PSU came with a number of fancy tricks designed to get the kid WRs involved and got several first downs off of them and Robinson's running.
Dn Ds Line Type Yards Notes
1 10 O20 Run 5 Shotgun handoff. Watson(-1) slants too far inside at the snap and the guard can use his momentum to dispose of him rather easily.
2 5 O25 Pass Inc Play action, Robinson manages to slip it in between the guys in the zone here but it's a little bit too high and it falls incomplete. Good coverage by Mason(+1) here, who knows he has safety help. Branch(+1) gets a little pass rush.
3 5 O25 Pass 0 Screen that Michigan blitzes into. Harris(+1) slices up and forces the RB back inside where Woodley(+1), who's coming from the other side of the field, makes the tackle. Incidental face mask here against Woodley goes uncalled... that would have been a first down.
Drive Notes: Punt, 0-0, 5 min 1st Q. The play by Harris is key, as they had a rock and we had scissors on that play call. If Harris doesn't disrupt the timing of the screen and allow the stunting Woodley to read and make his way to that side of the field, it's easily a first down and probably significantly more.
Dn Ds Line Type Yards Notes
1 10 O22 Run 2 Intended hole is totally jammed up by Harris(+1), who's an arm away from making a very nice TFL. A bounce gets a little yardage.
2 8 O24 Run 10 Watson... wow. I was sure that was Massey. Watson(-2) gets doubled on the draw and gets driven way back.
1 10 O34 Run -5 Watson(+2) gets it back on this one, crushing his man in to the backfield. Massey(+1) sheds and tracks his guy down very well, too.
2 15 O29 Pass Inc Play action here to a doubled Williams. Hall(+1) has a shot at the PBU. Also: this is illegal hands to the face on Branch, uncalled.
3 15 O29 Pass Inc Rush three... bleah, but I guess against Robinson it's a good percentage play. He has Smolko open downfield but misses him. I think Terrance Taylor(+1) manages to get a hit on Robinson after a few seconds in the pocket.
Drive Notes: Punt, 0-0, 2 min 1st Q. Watson gives them a first down and then puts them in second and long; net benefit if you ask me, but why doesn't he make these plays with more frequency?
Dn Ds Line Type Yards Notes
1 10 O5 Run 2 POA is again completely jammed up. Hunt cuts back into Burgess, who makes the tackle. Credit to Harris(+1), and maybe Watson.
2 8 O7 Run 7 Draw that we blitz into, perfect call. But Burgess(-1) completely overruns the play, and somehow Graham(-1) misses a tackle.
3 1 O14 Run 6 Short side option. Woodley(-1) gets blown off the ball and Graham(-1) just gets crushed by a guy wearing #24. never get crushed by a guy wearing #24!
1 10 O20 Pass Inc Robinson bombs it deep and Hall(+1) is in better position to make the catch than Williams. Ball is ovethrown.
2 10 O20 Pass 14 Slip screen out to #24, who turns out to be a true freshman WR, Graham. For shame. On this play Mason(-2) gets owned overpursing.
1 10 O34 Pass 7 Robinson reads the zone correctly and hits the open guy. Another tenuous tackle from Mason.
2 3 O41 Scramble 3 Big hole opens up; Harris is spying but doesn't get much of a stop here, more of a force the other guy to fall down. It's third and inches.
3 In O44 Penalty -5 False start. Muy estupido.
3 5 O39 Pass 24 Mason(-2) takes a terrible angle on a slip screen to Williams. Hall got blocked and the play had a good chance of being a first down anyway but not 25 yards and almost a touchdown if Williams doesn't step out.
1 10 M37 Run 2 Nice job by Trent(+1) to avoid the block on the run and come up and Burgess(+1) to keep contain.
2 8 M35 Pass 6 Three step drop that takes advantate of Trent playing off Butler. Trent does come up and make the tackle immediately.
3 2 M29 Run 1 Option short side that Robinson decides to cut up as Burgess(+1) plows through a blocker and is zooming in on the pitchman. Robinson is gang tackled.
Drive Notes:Missed FG(45), 0-0, 7 min 2nd Q. More below about the Mason-owning.
Dn Ds Line Type Yards Notes
1 10 O23 Pass 12 Massey(+1) reads this boot as well as he can an d chases Robinson to the sideline. Grant Mason(-1) is way behind Smolko.
1 10 O35 Pass 15 Jamar Adams(-2) vacates his zone badly and the slant is wide open.
1 10 50 Penalty   False start.
1 15 O45 Pass 6 They run a combo route that runs Mason off and then has Williams come underneath.They're clearly targeting Mason on almost every one of these short plays. They're largely avoiding Hall.
2 9 O46 Run 8 QB draw. Robinson scoots through a hole between two of the three (ugh) down linemen. David Harris(+3) gives the ball a yank job on his tackle. Textbook wrap, tackle, strip.
Drive Notes: Fumble, 3-0, 2 min 2nd Q. Harris is the man, man.
Dn Ds Line Type Yards Notes
1 10 O28 Pass 7 Simple out in a zone that was obviously open at the snap; Hall was playing a good ten yards off and backpedals.
2 3 O35 Run 1 Branch(+2) owns the OT and makes the tackle on Williams, though he manages to squirt forward from the tackle to prevent a TFL
3 2 O36 Run 2 Another short side option that Robinson keeps. Woodley does a realy nice job of holding the corner, as does Massey, but Robinson just manages to squeeze it out by powering between the two.
1 10 O38 Pass 7 Play action that we've read pretty well. Branch keeps Robinson contained. Mason(-1) lets Williams get very open in man.
2 3 O45 Run -5 End around to Williams. Spectacular play by Harris(+2) to read, fire into the backfield, and tackle. Woodley's(+1) push on the OL allows Harris the lane. IBFC video.
3 8 O40 Run 5 Run pass option for Robinson. Well played by Mason(+1), who covers the WR long enough to force the run and then comes up to tackle.
Drive Notes: Punt, 10-0, 7 min 3rd Q. Harris just tracked down Derrick Williams.
Dn Ds Line Type Yards Notes
1 10 O26 Pass 0 Robinson checks down to the flare route. Burgess(+1) plays this very well and makes an open field tackle.
2 10 O26 Run 4 Draw. The DTs crease and there's a good sized hole; Harris is blocked but sheds and manages a tackle.
3 6 O30 Pass 56 The fumbled snap broken play ridiculousness. Plus a roughing the passer against Graham (no - because the call appears to be really bad). I'm not exactly sure what happens here. After the fumble a blitzing Harris flushes Robinson but gets blocked at the last second and can't make the tackle. Branch comes off his blocker and gets a hand on him but also can't bring him down; then the flick to a wide open WR downfield. Harrison is in hot pursuit but I don't know if this is really his fault; from the replay provided he appears to have the other side of the field. I think Adams(-2) came up assuming a run (somewhat reasonably) and let Golden get way behind him.
1 G O7 Run 0 Woodley(+1) is unblocked and levels Hunt; Taylor(+1) also gets penetration.
2 G O7 Pass Inc Great play by Adams(+2) to come around Smolko and break the pass up.
3 G O7 Pass Inc Delayed blitz from Graham forces Robinson to throw. The ball is apparently inaccurate but Griese defends the decision as merely avoiding coverage.
Drive Notes: Made FG(25), 10-3, EOQ. The final play was something I've seen with frequency where Michigan will hold a linebacker in a spy and then release him on a delayed blitz if a lane opens up for him. It's usually effective.
1 10 O37 Run 61 Uh, yeah. Harrison(-2) has an opportunity to stifle this after about 15 yards but goes Shazor on us. Burgess(-1) gets crushed by the FB; Watson(-1) getting pushed back opens the hole up wide. IBFC video.
1 G O2 Run -2 Woodley(+1) stiffs the point of attack.
2 G O4 Pass Inc Graham(+1) gets it thrown directly to him on this rollout and he drops it. Stupid casts.
3 G O2 Run 4 Touchdown. Freaking QB draw, which always works against us. Just the wrong call, a blitz off the corner which forces Harris to drop into a zone and thus the endzone.
Drive Notes: Touchdown, 10-10, 12 min 4nd Q. 10 points on busted safety assignments.
1 10 O20 Pass 9 Fairly simple out run in front of Hall. Williams does make a huge difference in the PSU O because of plays like this. Last year there's no way Hall's that far off.
2 1 O29 Penalty -5 False start.
2 6 O24 Pass Inc Williams traps a ball thrown low.
3 6 O24 Penalty 5 Holding on Hall(-1).
1 10 O29 Run 0 This is a good play by Burgess(+1), who doesn't let the FB block him and crams the hole full of OLB goodness.
2 10 O29 Pass Inc Spy/delayed blitz from Harris(+1) who levels Robinson as he throws; the ball is well OOB.
3 10 O29 Pass Sack, -8 Three man rush gets relatively quick pressure from Branch(+1) and Woodley(+1), forcing PSU out of bounds. IBFC video.
Drive Notes: Punt, 18-18, 7 min 4th Q. If three man rushes were that effective on a regular basis I'd be all for them.
Dn Ds Line Type Yards Notes
1 10 O20 Scramble 6 Has all day to throw; can't find anyone. Good coverage but Robinson does that damned mobile quarterback thing.
2 4 O26 Pass Int Hall(+3) reads and picks the ball off. Mason(-1) gets called for what turns out to be a critical holding penalty.
Drive Notes: Interception, 21-18, 3 min 4th Q. Robinson makes only his second real mistake (the other being the interception Graham dropped).
Dn Ds Line Type Yards Notes
1 10 O19 Pass 11 Good time for Robinson and Mason(-1) misses another tackle, preventing this from staying as a five yard completion.
1 10 O30 Scramble 0 Flushes after looking downfield. Hall and Mason have him contained pretty well.
2 10 O30 Pass 28 Harris(-1) doesn't turn and find the ball. He's in position to make a play if he doesn't Todd Howard this. Of note: Woodley is getting double teamed on every play.
1 10 M42 Pass 7 Really soft zone coverage.
2 3 M35 Penalty -4 We blitz into a QB draw that goes for 15; a downfield holding call brings it back.
2 7 M39 Pass Inc Another dropped snap. Robinson picks it up and, perhaps flustered, one-hops it to another wide open receiver.
3 7 M39 Pass Inc Reviewed and changed to incomplete. More soft soft zone coverage and another open receiver.
4 7 M39 Scramble 9 Branch(-2) loses contain, and Harris can't react because he's covering a guy who turns into a blocker.
1 10 M30 Pass Inc High and wide to Butler, who's open. We've covered guys on about two plays this drive.
2 10 M30 Pass 14 We blitz one guy ineffectively. Robinson makes a great throw about an inch above Harris' hand.
1 10 M16 Pass Inc Morgan Trent(+1) hits Golden when the ball gets there, though this ball isn't very accurate.
2 10 M16 Pass Inc Burgess(+1), lined up as a DE, bats Robinson's pass down... no 60 yard game ending run this time.
3 10 M16 Penalty 12 PI on Hall(-1). He's there a millisecond too soon.
1 G M4 Run 4 Touchdown... QB draw. Burgess(-1) misses the tackle. We again blitz from the edges.
Drive Notes: Touchdown, 21-25, 1 min 4th Q. I hate this drive. There are guys wide open everywhere and the only plays that are unsuccessful are that because of Robinson's inaccuracy. We play soft, fearing the touchdown that we yield anyway, and repeat the same mistake we made against Wisconsin by letting the opponent drive the clock way down and score.

How did the new safeties do?

Fine except for the two 50 yard plays? Uh.

Harrison obviously took a bad angle on the Hunt run that turned a 15-20 yarder into first and goal, but the broken play ridiculousness is much harder to pin on someone since ABC didn't show a coherent replay of exactly what happened in the secondary. What happened is this: someone either abandoned their deep zone or their man at some point after the Robinson rollout when it looked for all the world like he was going to run. I don't think this was Harrison, who clearly has the deep middle of the field. It could have been Adams, the other safety, but if he was drawn up into man coverage than it would be whoever had that particular guy... which I still think was Adams.

So, one bad play each that led to a huge gain and, in total, ten of PSU's points. Outside of ground zero, though, they did play pretty well. Adams screwed up a zone and allowed an easy 15 yard completion but made a few other very good plays (coming around TE Isaac Smolko and breaking up a sure TD being the best). Harrison didn't show up in any way good or bad aside from the Shazor moment, which I'll take from a freshman. And he is really fast. I think both will be capable in time but now is not that time. Engelmon should return for Iowa and I'm very glad of that.

Hey, could you incorporate some Zen Buddhism in this column?

Comin' right up, koan style.

Why does Mason lead the team in tackles?

Because he can't tackle.

Is this causing a spiritual awakening in anyone? Someone should be getting enlightened around about... now.

What the hell am I talking about? Well, Penn State made a concerted effort to throw short routes against him, relying on their ability to break his tackles to pick up significant yards. This worked. Wait until you see the chart. I think this has been happening with increasng frequency as the year moves along and more and more film of Mason lunging ineffectually at people dashing past him become available. Mason is facing a ton of short routes run at him by teams looking for easy yards. He's pretty good in coverage but I think he's another reason our outside containment on running plays has ranged from abominable to "don't look at the Ark" this year.

Is there a solution to this?

I don't know. The easiest one seems to be abandoning zone coverages and moving more to a cover-two man-to-man look but that's a really drastic change to cover up a hole in a single player's game. Morgan Trent has looked good as the team's nickelback--he stuck Robinson pretty well on a particular play--and maybe if he starts platooning as a starter with Mason it'll reduce what appears to be a major liability, but I'm not one of those guys that assumes everyone on the bench is better than everyone on the field. There's probably a reason Mason is in front of Trent, and if you still believe that irrationally-playing-seniors stuff, well, you haven't been paying much attention.

Hey, what about the chart?

Chart.

Player + - T Notes
Woodley 6 1 5  
Woods - - - Didn't see him in.
Taylor 2 - 2 A couple good instances of penetration.
Massey 2 - 2 Not much either way this game; I'll take it.
Watson 3 4 -1 Poor game for him.
Johnson - - -  
Jamison - - -  
Branch 6 2 4 Consistently a bright spot.
Burgess 5 5 - Player of the game? Seriously? They didn't pick the guy right next to him?
Harris 9 1 8 Biggest scrub to star transformation since...?
Graham 1 2 -1  
Mason 3 10 -7 Well, at least some people are closer to Nirvana.
Hall 6 2 4  
Trent 2 - -  
Adams 4 4 0  
Harrison - 2 -2  

What is the deal with that last drive?

I don't know. Robinson made some excellent throws but Michigan also played off, never blitzed until first and goal (except when they sent all of five guys on one play), and generally made things as easy on him as they could in an effort to not give up a big play. In doing so they repeated the mistake they made against Wisconsin by not adjusting their defense to a much more aggressive stance. Playing soft with that much time on the clock eats time, often preventing the offense from mounting a response drive. Michigan had 20 or 30 seconds against Wisconsin and just 50 against Penn State. Without the Breaston return they lose. The advantage of having the ball last in a close game is often overlooked and Michigan played in a way that immediately reduced their chances of getting a last possession.

Passivity also makes much less sense when the offense is going to go for it on fourth down. Allowing medium range passes without serious resistance when the op ponent has four cracks at a first down instead of three is a tactical error since you're relying on the opponent to screw up an extra play. Given that Penn State had way too much time on the clock for it to pressure them in any way, the correct strategy in that situation was to increase your aggression, reducing the chances of each individual first down at the expense of increasing the chance of a big play. Again, this is just my mathematical intuition at this point but I hope to back this with numbers at a later date.

What does it mean for Iowa?

Drew Tate's the kind of guy who runs around a la your headless chicken and then finds someone open after a long time; this is a nervous tendency given the events on the fumbled snap play. Getting Engelmon back will help but Solomon is a deep threat and Tate is the kind of guy who can get it there. Given Hall's excellent deep coverage (they tried it a few times and then abandoned it after it was clear that Hall was saying no sale) we should be fine in man to man but there may be a time or two when Tate buys a few extra seconds and heaves it into a wonky zone.

Iowa's missing Ed Hinkel and so probably doesn't have the ability to exploit the Zen of Grant Mason. Their depth at WR is negligible. After Solomon, Hinkel, and TE Scott Chandler comes RB Albert Young with 12 receptions. The next WR on the chart is sophomore Herb Grigsby, who was unleashed as a starter against IU and exploded for zero yards on zero receptions. Michigan will probably be free to lavish attention on Solomon and take their chances on the random scrub lining up opposite him.

Containing the Iowa run game will be difficult. Albert Young has racked up 715 yards this year, which is already more than their top two rushers from last year combined. He looked good against IU, but everyone does. Iowa's two-TE stretch rushing game is designed to spread the defense, attack the corners, and open rushing lanes when linebackers and defensive backs attack the wrong hole, something Michigan's done with frequency this year. Against everyone except Ohio State the Hawkeyes have ground out scads of yards--and we aren't Ohio State. However, neither are we Ball State.

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