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Defensively Speaking: Penn State forward view

by Kevin Bruce

I can’t help myself so I’m jumping in before there’s been a single practice in preparation for the Grand Daddy of them all 2017 edition. This point of view is of course based upon our defense’s body of work combined with some statistical analysis, film review of Penn State and background information from some football folks that I really respect. Ok, let’s go…

This will be a physical football game but, and this is an important but, Penn State (PSU) is not a power football team in the mold of Alabama (who is right now?) or Stanford. They are a spread team but with a heavy lean to the run (1st and 2nd downs) but not pass. This is a team that ran 58% of the time with the majority of carries to a really good sophomore running back (Barkley) followed by the QB McSorely. Touchdowns follow a similar pattern with 55% running TDs and 45% passing. PSU has a really impressive red zone success of 86% compared to our 80%. Penn State is very careful with the football with only 5 int’s and 12 fumbles lost so they are +3 in turnovers…not great but better than our -2. A key weapon for PSU is their place kicker converting 22 of 24 FG tries and all 55 PAT attempts. Not bad…

Noteworthy first impressions:

  • Offensive line is very young. And they haven’t missed many meals either. As one great Trojan resource told me, “Their momma’s really love ‘em”. The center is a graduate senior and we need to control him. The rest of the O-line are redshirt freshmen or sophomores who are big but we can rattle them.
  • PSU loves to run a lot of center/midline reads out of a spread. That gives the O-line a lot of good down angles on the DL and pull a guard to kick out or screen. With our set they will have to figure who to block but Stevie T. and Rasheem will have to fight the angle of pressure on run plays especially 1st and 2nd
  • CP will try to confuse the blocking with multiple sets and looks. This will be a challenge for a young PSU O-line.
  • Our A-gap will be vulnerable so we have to manufacture pressure and different looks upfront. We can get away with this since our secondary is something PSU hasn’t seen this season. As such we can get away with a lot more looks and risk taking on 1st and 3rd
  • We will try to make PSU pass centric and really play stout in the box defense on 1st Then we go to a nickel or speed package. We’ll see how CP calls the boundary and forces pressure. With the tendency of underneath throwing and not a super strong armed QB we will take underneath away on 3rd down and give a quarters or a Cover 0 with a safety and CB (opposite side) if uncovered.
  • We will bring pressure but with good control and discipline. This is when CP’s defense is unique and an advantage. This is similar to teams facing an option offense they’re just not used to seeing or playing against. And since we’re pretty good at our disciplined pressure approach we’ll all see how PSU responds.
  • The WR set is staffed with pretty stout lads but lacking the killer speed we see so often in the Pac-12. They can really block btw.
  • Watch for screens on 3rd down from PSU as they run the screen package pretty darn well.

So what does this all mean? It means we can defend PSU well if we play good sound football. I would love to get some feedback regarding practice intensity and conditioning. One advantage Penn State has is that their conference championship game was just this past weekend and we will have been off for an additional week. I really prefer playing into December if possible so unlike last year’s Holiday Bowl prep we need to run the troops hard, condition, hit, block and tackle…Trust me Penn State will do all of the above. But they haven’t seen a team like the Trojans. Fight On!

Kevin Bruce played linebacker at USC from 1972-75 and was a member of two national title teams. He is now a member of the FWAA.

Garry Paskwietz
Garry Paskwietz

A 1988 graduate of USC with a degree in Sports Information. Worked in sports marketing for LA Lakers and Miller Brewing Company. Began covering the Trojans in 1996 with the Trojan Football Fax. Founded WeAreSC in November 1998 with stints at Scout and ESPN. Emmy-winner while covering high school football at Fox Sports West.

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