Watching Tape: Penn State-Minnesota



I just finished watching a large chunk of the Penn State-Minnesota game from last week (the torrent started coverage with around four minutes left in the first quarter, with PSU up 6-0, thanks to the Texas-Oklahoma game running long, and I stopped watching once PSU put the game out of reach), and have some observations from the tape:

  • This should come as a bit of a surprise, considering Penn State racked up 177 yards on 43 carries against Minnesota, but I actually came away relatively unimpressed with their run game. There were generally two outcomes when they handed the ball off: There was the good, when Royster would find a seam, break the first tackle (Minnesota tackled horribly in the game) and get to the next level before getting taken down 8-20 yards downfield. Then there was the bad, when the offensive line allowed far too much penetration and Royster (or whoever was getting the carry) go nowhere. 21 of Penn State’s 43 carries went for three yards for less, and many of those looked like the play pictured above. This would make sense against a defense like, say, Penn State’s, but Minnesota is 87th in the country in rush defense. Michigan certainly isn’t great at rush D, but they do have several quick guys who can get into the backfield, and that could give Penn State a lot of trouble on Saturday. Further breakdown of the run play pictured above after the jump.
  • Darryl Clark is very tough to figure out. On some plays, his mechanics are perfect, and he looks like an NFL quarterback that can fit a pass pretty much anywhere he wants to. On other plays, it appears that his mechanics completely fall apart, and he throws some very ugly balls. He had one pass, in particular, where he stepped up in the pocket, failed to set his feet, and completely overthrew a wide open receiver that had three steps on the defense and would have scored an easy touchdown. One thing I will say about Clark: he is a big, big dude, and when he runs it takes a solid tackle (and often, a solid tackle by several players) to take him down.
  • Look out for Andrew Quarless, Penn State’s tight end. He caught a couple crossing routes when Minnesota brought heat, and Clark tended to look his way when facing pressure. Michigan’s linebackers better be aware of where he is on the field, especially when a blitz is called. He already has 21 catches for 224 yards this season and showed some nice hands against the Gophers.
  • I’m not sure how much this was a function of Minnesota’s defense, but Penn State’s line performed far better in the passing game than the run game. They consistently gave Clark a nice pocket to throw from and a long time to pick apart the defense, and the Lions’ wide receivers were able to take advantage by finding holes in the Gopher defense. Michigan has had a very tough time getting to the quarterback this year, and that may continue this weekend.
  • I don’t have a whole lot on the Penn State defense, since Minnesota runs a completely different offense from Michigan and generally appeared inept last week. One thing I did notice, however, was the aggressiveness of their linebackers — they fly to the ball and hit hard, especially Navorro Bowman. The Gophers did use this to their advantage on one play, setting up a screen that would have gone for big yardage, but Adam Weber threw a terrible pass that the running back couldn’t haul in. Look for Michigan to try to do something similar — we could see a lot of Carlos Brown leaking out of the backfield, a la the Indiana game.

Take all of this with a big grain of salt — it’s a pretty small amount of data from a game against Minnesota. However, keep an eye out for this stuff come Saturday — I expected to watch this game and see Penn State completely dominate, and while their defense delivered, I didn’t get the same impression from their offense. I think this team is beatable, although Michigan will have to play a great game to overcome that D.

Now for that run breakdown:

Let’s take a look at that run play again, pre-snap:

Run Play 1
Now, Minnesota runs more of a traditional 4-3 than Michigan does, but if you take the right defensive end here and stand him up, I think this is very close to Michigan’s 4-3 under look. However, I’m not much of a football strategy buff, so I may be a little off.

Run Play 2
Off the snap, Penn State’s entire line slants to the right, with the fullback kicking out to the left. He’ll be responsible for blocking the right defensive end.

Run Play 3
Already, Minnesota has begun to get penetration up the middle. The left tackle is doing his job, looking to get a block on the second level, but both the left guard and the center are already a yard in the backfield.

Run Play 4
As Clark prepares to hand off to Royster, Minnesota’s middle linebacker starts to get aggressive, while the middle of the offensive line continues to be pushed back. The fullback is preparing to chop down the weakside defensive end.


Now we have a situation. The fullback, who is barely visible, has completely failed to chop down the weakside DE, who is now free and getting ready to hit Royster. The center and left guard and now each two yards deep in the backfield. Disaster is imminent.

Run Play 6
The climax: the weakside DE, now completely unblocked and free to do as he pleases, hauls down Royster, who had no option but to cut the play back towards the weak side because of the penetration up the middle. One yard loss. Here’s the whole play on video (apologies for the low quality, but I only had a standard def torrent to work with):

Now, the question is, can Michigan replicate this type of success? I do like Mike Martin as part of this matchup, as he is the type of quick, strong DT who can get leverage on the middle of the line and drive the play into the backfield. Brandon Graham, as always, will do his job exceptionally well. Can Van Bergen hold the point of attack and allow Craig Roh and the linebackers to make plays like the one above? We’ll see. This Penn State line was a big question mark heading into the season, and they haven’t performed great so far this year. Like I said, this team is vulnerable. Michigan just has to take advantage.


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