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Film Room: Penn State

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We’ve got big plays, third down stats, and the pass-run breakdown.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

So much to get to from Saturday’s win over Penn State. We will try and hit as much as possible. We’ve got plays from both teams, as well as trying to break down some play calling tendencies as we move through what was really a great football game.

Hamilton TD

Penn State opened the scoring on their second possession with this catch and run for 31 yards to DaeSean Hamilton.

It is first-and-ten and Penn State comes out in shotgun with Barkley in the backfield. They have three wideouts and a tight end off the line on the near side. Hamilton is the slot receiver.

MSU has man-to-man on the three wideouts and rush four. The other four defenders are all up within five yards of the line of scrimmage, leaving the second level open. Both the tight end, and Barkley will go out for passes, making five players to be accounted for. With MSU just rushing four, they should be able to account for the additional receiving options.

Here’s where things go wrong for MSU. Both the tight end and Barkley get picked up coming out of the backfield, but Bachie slips as the tight end makes his cut across the field. Now Willis had already been shadowing the tight end as he came out, and continues to follow him across as Bachie slips. At the same time the linebacker on that side (I believe A. Dowell) comes up to cover the tight end coming across.

Now Bachie and Dowell both played this as if they were in a zone, with Bachie not immediately picking up the TE as he came out and not trying to chase him down after falling. And Dowell came up to pick up the TE. Willis played it like he was supposed to be manned up on the TE as he continued pursuit across the field.

What it did was open up a huge open space right where Hamilton’s crossing route took him. With minimal pressure, McSorley was able to wait for this to develop, step up and hit Hamilton in stride.

Here it is from behind the QB. You can see that Hamilton has the step he needs on his defender, and the McSorley has has a completely clean pocket. You also see Willis and Dowell both trying to cover the tight end.

Hamilton makes the catch, turns the corner, fights of D. Dowell and scores.

I can’t say with absolute certainty, but it seems like Willis should have let the tight end go and passed him off to first Bachie and then Dowell. Then he would have been available to help on the crossing route into the open space on that side of the field.

We saw the Spartans have issue with these types of routes a week ago at Northwestern, so no surprise that Penn State used them as well.

Davis play action TD

This was a beauty of a play, and it was executed absolutely perfectly.

MSU is in the I-formation with Holmes as the deep back. They have two wide receivers and a tight end. Stewart comes in motion from the top, pretty standard stuff from MSU. This play is usually either the jet sweep hand-off to Stewart, or it goes to Holmes up the middle. Not this time. Both Holmes and the fullback help out with blocking to allow the play to develop for Davis, who runs the stop and go down the field.

The fakes have their desired effect, freezing the second level of Penn State’s defense. Holmes and Lucas do their thing helping keep Lewerke clean while Davis works down field.

The angle from behind the play shows you the single deep safety and how long it takes him to react.

He basically doesn’t move towards Davis until the ball is in the air. By then it’s too late. Lewerke leads Davis who makes a fabulous diving catch for the touchdown.

Tompkins 70 yard TD

This one was pretty much just bad luck. But it’s worth highlighting as it is the type of thing that can happen in MSU’s scheme from time to time.

Penn State has four wideouts with Barkley in the backfield with McSorley. MSU is in their base defense. Tompkins is at the bottom of the screen (yellow circle). The wideout on the top is manned up by the other corner with press coverage. The slot receivers will be picked up by the defenders that match their color circle. In both cases it is the safety that ends up ultimately covering them once they get passed off to the next level.

You see the play action to Barkley freeze Bachie for a second in the middle, but doesn’t really get anyone else to bite. And you see the linebackers pass the slot receivers off to the safeties.

What that leaves you with is single coverage on all the deep routes.

McSorley is already winding up to throw to Tompkins in single coverage before Scott falls down. But the fall turns the play from a possible big gain into a walk in 70 yard touchdown.

When you put your guys on an island on the outside, sometimes this is what happens. Those guys have been very good this year, and were pretty good on Saturday as well. But this is the flip side of the coin. Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you.

MSU Third Down Conversions

Rather than try and pick one or two I am just going to break down the numbers for MSU’s offense on third down.

For the game, Michigan State picked up 10 of 18 third down plays, which comes out to 55.6 percent. The final third down was an incomplete pass but a roughing the passer penalty extended the drive, which ended with Matt Coghlin’s game winning field goal.

Here are all of the situations that MSU converted against Penn State:

  • 3rd and 11 (pass to LJ Scott)
  • 3rd and 19 (pass to Cody White)
  • 3rd and 10 (pass to Darrell Stewart)
  • 3rd and 4 (pass to Holmes)
  • 3rd and 1 (Scott run)
  • 3rd and 18 (pass to Davis)
  • 3rd and 11 (pass to Rison)
  • 3rd and 6 (pass to Davis)
  • 3rd and 4 (pass to Davis)
  • 3rd and 1 (Scott run)

On third down Lewerke was 9-for-14 (64.3%), with eight conversions, including five conversions of 10 yards or more. He also ran for 15 yards on 3rd and 20, and had White drop a pass that would have picked up a 3rd and two.

Being able to pick up third and long is something that Connor Cook did so well during his time in East Lansing, and we are really starting to see more and more of that from Lewerke.

Play Calling

Michigan State attempted 56 passes in the game on Saturday. That is the most pass attempts in a regulation game in the Dantonio era. The most passes thrown ever in the Dantonio era in a game was the 57 thrown last week, but that came in triple overtime.

On the flip side, the Spartans handed the ball off to a running back only 17 times in the game. Their 24 total carries were the fewest in a game this season and their fewest in a win since 2012 when they had 28 in a win over Wisconsin.

Dave Warner and the offensive staff has dealt with plenty of criticism this year, some of it fair, some of it probably not so much. But they deserve a lot of credit for the win on Saturday. They came out throwing and never stopped. They let Lewerke be Lewerke, and he rewarded them. While no game is perfect on play calls, this one was about as good as you could get. Hats off to Warner and company and I expect to see more of the same next week.

That’s it for this week. Remember if there is anything you want to see highlighted in this piece, send me a message on twitter (@matthoeppner).