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Film Room: Penn State

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Willis makes a big play, the fake that wasn’t to be, second down struggles, and The Freak all play a role in this week’s breakdown.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Willis Forced Fumble

This was a pretty big play that I think might get overlooked with the way the rest of the game went, although Willis was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week. Penn State was moving the ball early in the game and had a first down at the MSU 34-yard line.

Willis (yellow) creeps down and is going to come on a blitz while everyone else is going to drop into coverage. MSU is rushing five total and dropping six. Willis doesn’t really get much of a pass rush on, but that doesn’t end up mattering in the end.

Naquan Jones busts through the line from his defensive tackle position and creates pressure on McSorley. He doesn’t get the sack, but it forced McSorley out of the pocket.

Willis reads the development in the play perfectly, rather than just barreling ahead and engaging the blocker, he peels off as McSorley steps up and now has a direct route to the quarterback.

Willis gets to McSorley just as he is winding up to throw and is able to knock the ball free before his arm comes forward. Tyriq Thompson is in perfect position to recover the fumble as he stepped up to prevent McSorley from running.

This play is a good example of how the blitzer doesn’t necessarily have to get home to be effective, especially against a mobile quarterback. Having the extra player in the vicinity made the difference. It also highlights how a pass rush doesn’t have to result in a sack for good things to happen.

MSU held McSorley to 37 yards rushing on 13 carries, with a long of 10 yards. That average of 2.85 yards per rush was a season low and McSorley was averaging 6.6 yards per attempt over his last four games.

Fake Field Goal

This was the play that I think many Spartan fans thought cost them the game. With a little under five and a half minutes to go, instead of trying for the game tying field goal with your kicker that had made 16 straight attempts, Dantonio goes back into the old bag of tricks. The problem was he had been there too many times already.

So the pass attempt ultimately goes to Raequan Williams (yellow), who basically just runs straight ahead. Matt Sokol (green) also goes out for a pass. The problem is that Penn State was somewhat ready for this possibility. Garret Taylor (red) immediately drops back and ends up being the one to make the play.

Two other PSU defenders on that side double cover Sokol, with blue circle having him pretty much from the start.

Here it is as it’s developing. Sokol is probably the primary and preferred option, but he is heavily covered. Even Taylor (red) is shaded that direction, which is what allows Williams to get, what appears to be wide open. But because Sokol is covered, it gives Taylor a chance to react in time to Williams.

This is right at the moment where Lewerke throws the ball. He is forced to put some air under it due the pressure, and he probably doesn’t want to rifle it to Williams anyway. Raequan has his hand up because he got by the first defender and thinks he’s wide open. However, you can see Taylor starting to react right at this moment. Sokol is covered and he isn’t needed, he’s watching Lewerke and knows where the pass is going.

Taylor makes a great break on it, and breaks up the play. Would a more experienced pass catcher have held on? Maybe. But Taylor and the Penn State defenders should get credit for making the play and not getting caught napping or selling out for the block.

Second Down Struggles

I was tweeting about this during the game and I wanted to revisit it here, because I think it was the main issue with the MSU offense for most of the game.

Unlike in some previous games, Michigan State was having success on first down picking up decent yardage. What was killing them was second down.

Let’s look at the first half. MSU ran 15 plays on second down in the first half. Of those 15 plays, 10 of them went for zero or negative yards. In fact those 15 plays totaled just 54 yards, or an average of 3.6 per play. However, that included the halfback pass play which set up the first touchdown that went for 36 yards. Take out that trick play and the Spartan offense averaged just 1.28 yards per play on second down in the first half.

On to the second half. I am going to leave out the final drive at first to give you an idea of how things were going up to that point.

Once again before that MSU had mounted one scoring drive in the half, just like they did in the first half. They had run 11 second down plays in the second half before that final drive and to that point those plays totaled 28 yards, an average of 2.54 yards per play. That included seven plays that went for zero or negative yards.

So the second half numbers before the final drive were as follows:

26 plays, 82 yards, 3.15 yards per play, 17 plays of zero or negative yards.

Again, if you take out the one trick play, the numbers are staggeringly bad. Without the halfback pass Michigan State’s offense averaged 1.84 yards per play on 25 second-down plays, with 68% of those plays going for zero or negative yards.

Now, on the final drive suddenly everything seemed to work. Lewerke was 3-for-3 for 40 yards on second down on the game winning drive. That was good enough to bring the second down average up to 4.2 yards per play for the game.

But part of the reason you needed the final drive to win the game in the first place was the inefficiency of the offense throughout the game. And a big part of that was the second down struggles.

Felton Davis Runs This Sh*t

Let’s just watch this on a loop for a little bit and enjoy it for another day or so before we get swept up in the Rivalry Week festivities.

Also I hate to say I told you so but...

On to the next test as MSU will face it’s second straight top-10 opponent, a scenario that seems to work in the Spartans favor more often than not under Dantonio.