Spread HD analysis from a Penn State fan

Bumped...A solid response (with a little snark) to my piece on PSU's Spread HD offense. - Paragon

I recently read an article on this site titled simply "The Spread HD", that claimed "Instead of trying to break this offense down and all of its components I think it’s more important to see how PSU will match-up against USC’s Defense."

Really?  In an article named after the Penn State offense we're still letting the USC defense dominate the discussion?  If the article is supposed to be about PSU's offense then what better time to break down, oh I don't know, PSU's offense?!

The following is one fan's attempt at analyzing Penn State's offense from this past season.

By and large, Penn State will try to run the ball on you.  You can safely say that about any Penn State team in history and this year has been no different.  Our offensive line consists of 3 first-team All Big Ten guys (including the Rimington Award Winner), 1 second-teamer, and one honorable mention.  True, the line hasn't given up many sacks but has struggled at times providing ample time on passing downs.  They earned their stripes running the football, and they take a lot of pride in bulldozing and road-grading.  All receivers are also excellent blockers, led by Derrick Williams in that department.  It's obvious Penn State spends a lot of practice time on stalk-blocking with their receivers.

Penn State has passed most effectively this season through play-action and on the early downs when the threat of the run kept defenses honest.  The best way to beat Penn State, in my opinion, is to commit to stopping the run because the pass generally won't kill you, especially when you know it's coming.  At times this season, Penn State has tried to force the pass when it hasn't been necessary, to results that range from decent to disastrous.  The best example of this is probably when in our first series of the Iowa game (our only loss), we opened with 3 pass plays that resulted in inc, inc, fumble, punt from our own end zone.

The PSU names you'll hear on New Year's Day:

  • Darryl Clark:  A stud when he has time to throw.  Has a habit of getting excited and missing high early in the game, which has been a problem especially in routes over the middle.  In general an accurate passer that has good chemistry with experienced senior receiving corps.  Can shake a little bit and pick up a first down with his legs on occasion, and he's not afraid to take off, but would rather use his legs to buy time to find the open receiver.  Think more in the style of Ben Roethlisberger and less Juice Williams/Michael Vick.
  • Evan Royster:  Quietly put together a great season, and is arguably the most important piece to the Penn State offensive puzzle.  Vision is easily Royster's best quality as a back.  There have been countless times when he has found 4, 5, 6 yards out of a tiny crease and made things easier for Penn State on 3rd down.  He's best used between the tackles because of this ability, and doesn't have great breakaway speed or prolific dance moves on the outside.
  • Stephon Green:  I hate the obligatory "thunder-and-lightning" expression used to describe every running back tandem these days, but Green is more lightning than thunder for sure.  He has a ton of speed and not much else, and it's been frustrating at times to see him bang into the line at full speed for 2-3 yards instead of being patient, waiting for a hole to develop, making one cut and then taking off.  He's a redshirt freshman and has some room to grow, but has been very effective on screens and sweeps throughout the season and can gash you for a big gainer periodically.
  • Derrick Williams:  This guy has been the heart and soul of Penn State this season.  Dynamic playmaker that lines up all over the field, he needs to be accounted for on every play because he can hurt you from anywhere.  Lines up in the backfield often, runs the sweep, loves the wheel route and has scored several times on it, can go over the middle or take it deep.  Has played QB here and there in the Wildcat formation, and has actually completed a couple passes.  Was a QB in high school and has lobbied to play the position at Penn State in the last couple years to no avail (would have been nice when Morelli was back there looking like a blindfolded high schooler).
  • Jordan Norwood:  Most sure-handed receiver on the roster.  He's a tiny guy, probably no heavier than 165 lbs, but goes over the middle all the time and loves it.  As a freshman in the Orange Bowl, he took a hit over the middle that looked like it knocked the life out of him, jumped right up and asked for seconds.  One of the toughest guys on the team and a great 3rd down option.  If Maualuga gets ahold of him the trainers will probably get on tv.
  • Deon Butler:  Quietly became Penn State's all-time receptions leader this season.  Has been a great deep threat his entire career, and also a great 3rd down option.  Him and Norwood have been much more consistent pure receivers than Derrick Williams, but the "big 3" all have different strengths and seem to complement each other well.
  • Graham Zug:  4th receiver has proved a more than capable option this year, and Penn State has gone 4-wide often enough and has shown faith in him.  Not anything all-conference worthy yet, but has potential and can hurt you.  Also is the Divine Creator of the Universe according to Black Shoe Diaries.  Before all things, there was Zug.
  • Brett Brackett:  6'6" target creates mismatches and is lined up at wide receiver but used as more of a glorified tight end.  Used sparingly but has shown good hands.
  • Andrew Quarless/Mickey Shuler:  You never really know who will show up at tight end for Penn State.  Quarless seems to have more pure athletic ability, but has been in the dog house for stretches (due to general stupidity, underage drinking, etc).  Shuler is a hard worker with very good hands and a good blocker.  Neither is likely to hurt you too much in the passing game, but both can make a big catch here and there.

As stated earlier, Penn State has had the most success this season on the ground, and has had success through the air mostly when they've established themselves on the ground first.  That being said, it's a pretty diverse running game, with Royster and Green running between the tackles, Green and Williams mostly taking the corner, and Clark taking what the defense gives him when the defense won't give him anything through the air.  In short yardage, Royster is probably the best option because of his ability to turn nothing into a little bit.

This seems like a cop-out, and may be a little of my homerism coming through, but in my opinion Penn State hasn't been stopped all year.  They've stopped themselves a couple of times.  At Purdue in the first road game on the Big Ten schedule (always a major stumbling block of Paterno teams, usually because of Paterno's mandated ultra-conservative, win-with-defense gameplan in road openers), 20 points scored was a low-point.  At Ohio State, the Penn State staff was happy to engage in a boring, defensive slugfest on the road (possibly to lull the crowd?  I'm probably giving the staff too much credit there) against a freshman QB, and the freshman QB made a game-breaking mistake.  At Iowa they got cute and it cost them a shot at the national title game.  They came out throwing the ball and sucked, and up by 2 with a few minutes left in the game threw over the middle for an interception that led to Iowa's game-winning drive when running the ball, eating clock and pinning Iowa deep would have served them better.

Here's the fun part.  Penn State hasn't faced a defense as fast and ferocious as USC's this year.  They're both going to bring it.  Both teams had something bigger on their minds this season but both teams will bring their A game to the Rose Bowl.  I think this game will be won on 3rd down, and a lot of it will depend on how USC's linebackers can cover.  Penn State probably won't get big chunks on the ground in the early downs, but very well could get enough to set up 3rd-and-manageable.  When that happens, look for Penn State to spread you out and hope to find a mismatch in coverage somewhere.  If USC goes man-to-man (which I hear is not common anyway), Penn State probably has too many capable guys to be consistently stopped.  Going with a soft zone is probably not the best option either, because Penn State is full of quick pesky guys that are very good at finding the holes in zones.  I'd say the best bet for USC is to blitz early and often.  Bring the pressure, take Darryl Clark out of the game because he can be rattled by pressure and hasn't faced a ton of it this year.  If you can slow down the running game and pressure Clark, Penn State will have a very tough time getting points on the board despite the considerable advantage in net punting/punt returns and penalties.

Oh and, be nice to our quarterback.  Our backup just transferred before the Rose Bowl....

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Conquest Chronicles' writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Conquest Chronicles' writers or editors.

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