Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Coaching Points: Maryland vs PSU, 2014

Normal day for PSU defense. Maryland had 17 real drives, 12 went four plays or fewer, three went more than 5 plays. Only three drives longer than 17 yards. 11 Punts, three fumbles
A normal day for the PSU Offense. 16 real drives (really 17, because they tried to gain yards before getting sacked before halftime). 11 drives went five plays or fewer, six went more than five plays. Went longer than 50 yards once. 8 punts, three turnovers. Moderate success early, leading to consistent lack of success late. After first six drives, 7/8 went three plays or less, 9/11 went four plays or less.
Maryland O: Mostly 11 personnel from Gun
PSU D: 4-3 Over or Nickel Over; mix of coverage, lots of Cover 6

PSU O: Mostly gun, 12 personnel. Lots of man blocking schemes in 1st half, zone in 2nd
Maryland D: 3-4 Under

PSU Defensive Line
I'm starting to feel repetitive about this, at least in terms of saying it for B1G teams, but PSU has a great DL. There are really two position groups where the B1G is very strong: RB, DL. PSU is up there with the best of the conference (OSU, Nebraska, and MSU, with Michigan on the outside looking in as a very good group as well). I know I harp on it consistently, but the way PSU uses their hands on the DL is a thing of beauty. I think for many of the other teams you see a few guys that are always great (Bosa as OSU; Rush at MSU) and then some guys that are almost always good (Calhoun at MSU; Barnett at OSU; Gregory, Collins, Valentine at Nebraska), but the strength of PSU is that they all seem to be great with their hands every single snap.

Zettel is a guy I'm hoping can pack on at least 15 more pounds without losing a step, he's a Ryan Van Bergan type, a guy that if he can add the weight is so technically sound on the inside that you just hope he can do it. It's every single snap with this guy, he's a two-gap 3-4 coaches dream as far as the DE position there and how he uses his hands. Even when the ball went away from him, I just watched him and he did exactly what he had to do: hit violently with his hands, controlled the OL around the breast plate, and shucked him to flow to the football. When he can't make a play on the ball he gains separation from his blocker, reads the QB's eyes, and gets his arms in throwing windows.

And then you flank his with athletes like Deion Barnes and CJ Olaniyan. Both are pure 4-3 Over DEs and they know how to rush the passer. They understand the OT's position, they understand how to set them up. They club and rip to the outside, they club and swim back inside when the OT gets beyond his tackle set line. In the run game they set the edge well too, and understand how to use their hands to control a lineman and fight back to the ball.

Then you have the true NT in Austin Johnson. He won't give you a ton of pass rush, but he does exactly what you want in the middle. He controls blockers, he takes on doubles, then he fights back to the football. How often are PSU's LBs caught in the wash? The answer is rarely. That starts up front. There was a draw play where Johnson looked sealed outside, threw his blocker, and made a tackle in the hole at the LOS 5 yards away.

This is why this defense is so good. Yes, Hull is very good. And yeah, I think Wartman had a heck of a game in this one as well. But they are helped out so much by simply great DL play at every single position.

Maryland Rushing Attack vs PSU Run D
This was always going to be a bad match-up for Maryland. Maryland has struggled running between the tackles this year and has relied a lot on flare screens, quick screens, and WR screens to get a running attack. I thought Maryland did some nice things with so QB runs, some designed and some read plays. Brown was able to pick up yards and is a solid runner, even breaking what appeared to be a sure tackle by Olaniyan and picking up a 1st down (because the backside of Barnes and Lucas both over-pursued and left their post).

But Maryland's interior OL really just couldn't hold up well enough in the run game, and the OTs struggled in protection a bit. As I stated, the PSU DL is great, but this was just going to be a bad match-up for Maryland.

But they couldn't do enough of it. PSU was sniffing out the screens most of the game, particularly to the WRs. The PSU DL dominated and was clearly schooled in how to handle screens, as they did a great job retracing and getting to the sideline. Maryland had a run here or a run there, but wasn't really able to remain consistent with the rushing attack. And even then  Brown struggled on his accuracy on some of these screen passes, missing a RB open on a slip screen and forcing some WRs off their path with some tunnel screens to the outside (and the WRs dropped everything, more about later). And even when Maryland had the right play call on, such as catching PSU in a double B blitz, they couldn't get the tunnel screen out clean enough, and PSU did a good job forcing the play back to pursuit.

I've been impressed with Hull this year, but I really think Wartman had himself a great game. He was sound in coverage, understanding where to take his eyes and route recognition, and he was great in his run fills. He was clean most of the day because of that DL, but he got to the football and cleaned up consistently. Maryland mostly ran away from Hull, and Hull seemed a bit more occupied with holding the backside (he seemed a little slower than usual working over the top in this game), but Wartman was good at the point of attack.

One thing that was nice is that by later in the game, I thought Maryland had thrown enough downfield to get PSU's respect. Then they went back to the RB screen. Maryland loves quick hitting screens to the RBs on the edge. Flare screen and slip screen. Hit it big in 4th quarter where they get the OT on the edge and seal the LB inside, slip the RB off the block on the DE and it's a nice gain. That set up their go ahead points.

Maryland Passing Attack vs PSU Coverage
I don't know what the deal was with Maryland's WRs in this game. Brown was not terribly accurate, he made every catch more difficult than it had to be pretty much. That's who he is, he has some mechanical issues both with his arm slot and footwork, but my goodness Maryland's WRs seemed to drop or bobble every ball thrown to them. And when Maryland had a chance to seal the game with a TD late, the WR waits and lets the ball come to his hands below his waist and the PSU safety can almost work over the top and get an INT.

But Maryland was getting receivers open, particularly when PSU went to zone (they were better in man coverage I thought; though it seemed that their base was Cover 6). The receivers were able to find voids between zones and get open between levels. But just drop after drop after drop.

Amos playing in the slot did a very nice job. PSU went man under and has over the top and inside help. Amos prevented outside release with his coverage and leverage, and once he is crossed and the receiver gets inside, he plays low and in front of receiver and broke up the pass with his upfield arm. Great bracket coverage.

PSU did utilize and Over Gut 6 blitz twice in this game, once ending in a sack late in the game and another time getting a pressure that forced an incomplete pass. I looked at that here.

PSU Rush Attack vs Maryland Run D
PSU game out with an idea to run some influence traps or BOB sweeps, or some mix of both. But they were pulling both OGs and getting them out in space and sealing the rest of the Maryland DL inside with a gap blocking scheme. I thought this worked pretty well and was a nice change-up to the zone blocking scheme. I thought this made it a little easier for inexperienced OGs who just had to identify a target and block rather than have to have the right feel for when to release and things of that nature, and it worked pretty well in the 1st half.

Maryland did make some adjustments to it. They shot a CB blitz and you saw the OG on a Counter H not identify him. You saw them shoot more inside with the OLB that the frontside OG was attempting to kick, which squeezed the hole a bit and allowed the safety to step up clean and clean up in the alley when the RB tried to bounce. And then PSU mostly went away from man schemes and back to zone schemes, which were about as successful as PSU has been at running this year (read: not very).

Maryland was mostly a 3-4 Under team that really shot gaps and tried to be disruptive, and I thought it was the right approach. I don't mean to take away from them in this section, but every time I've watched a PSU game it's the same mistakes and problems in the run game and I really don't have a feel for how to evaluate an opponent accurately against them. Maryland shot gaps with the DL, they attacked downhill with the LBs. This saw them get gashed for 10 yards a few times, but all Maryland really wanted to do was get PSU behind the chains, where death ensues for the offense. I thought that was a correct game plan and I thought for the most part the executed it. They did get gashed a few times, but once PSU got behind the chains they struggled to get first downs.

I need to say that the problems with PSU's blocking are not limited to the OL. The TEs have been awful as well. They don't bring their hands consistently, often times simply dipping with their shoulder to try to cut someone off to no avail. The RBs are inconsistent in the run game blocking and maybe worse in pass protection. It's a team wide issue right now.

There were some things that I do want to at least point out for Maryland. Twine made a hell of a play from his LB position on a Zone read from PSU with a direct snap to a RB. Everyone on the defense bit on the fake give, but he stayed home, took on Jesse James who was trying to pin him inside, threw him off, and made a huge third down stop. The OLBs and DEs did their job, scarping down the LOS and making plays by flowing to the ball consistently. Davis stepped up in his run fill a few times to hold down plays that broke through the first two levels. Things like that. They did their job.

PSU Passing Protection vs Maryland Pass Rush
Same old story again. When Maryland's DL was singled up on a blocker, they won. It was pretty much that plain and simple. Maryland was able to successfully do inside moves and cleanly get to the QB probably a dozen times in this game. On the interior, that's the worst thing you can do is allow that guy inside of you and have a short run to the QB, but it happened consistently. The PSU OL was awful with their hands, often times doing more body bumping than controlling. They got too wide or off balance too often, either by leaning or just because of poor footwork. And then they compounded matters. They would let a guy inside, alright, you lost. But if he gets inside keep washing him inside. You lost initially but force him to keep moving that way so the QB at least has an option to step around and up. But again, no use of hands, the DL gets inside but isn't pinned there, and instead can then fight back across the OL's face and make a play on the QB.

Monroe owned under these circumstances. He saw a LT off balance by taking too wide of a step and shoved him aside and got in clean for a sack on what would have been a big screen action vertical play. They got clean hit after clean hit after (read: I don't agree with the roughing call on the pick 6) clean hit on Hack and won almost every one-on-one battle it seemed.

Yannick (OLB) for Maryland did a good job feeling the pass pro. There is an imaginary drawn called the "tackle set line" between the ghost TE and where the QB will set to pass. Where the OL sets up to block is where the DL bases their pass rush move. The pulling OG never got to that set line and so #7 continued his speed rush and got singled up on the RB who didn't have much of a chance. OG needs to see the DE quicker and gain depth. It's things that PSU did wrong and Maryland took advantage of.

The Maryland DL also did a good job of feeling when they were being released on screens. That's inexperience at OL not selling, but once the interior felt they were being released, they stopped and found the QB.

PSU Passing Attack vs Maryland Coverage
I really thought Likely had a really good game. He consistently showed good body position and understanding of leverage on a variety of routes and coverages. Because of that body position he could make plays on the ball and be disruptive.

As for PSU, they have some athletes. Lewis had a nice little stutter step to get the CB to feel the vertical threat, then used his hands to get off CB and Hack threw a dart. When Hack can set, the WRs can do some things, and of course the TEs are a match up issue.

I still don't like the way Hack plays on the move or with some of his short passes. Still doesn't set his feet well or get his hip up field when on the move. On short passes he tends to take something off the ball by flicking it with his wrist, thus leading to inaccurate throws. And his first interception is on him. He's upset at a WR, but Maryland is in Cover 3 and has a guy with outside deep third leverage the whole way. If the receiver ran a post-seam when he was supposed to run a post-corner, and the deep third CB didn't bite inside, why are you yelling at your WR when you hung a pass up there for an easy interception? It was an awful decision.

I take issue with some of the ways Hackenberg is handling the situation. I know he's getting beaten to dust because he lacks an OL. I know this is putting a lot on his receivers to see when to make hot reads and things of that nature. But he's just screaming at guys left and right. Is that passion? Is that fire? It can be; it can be when your team knows they can do better but has their head up their ass. But I don't think that's the case for this team. This is a team that is trying but simply isn't good up front and is struggling to compensate. I don't think yelling at all your teammates all the time is helpful. I think it causes a rift.

This is a bit of a hand-wavey nuance, but I think a coach needs to step in and talk to Hackenberg directly and give him a little guidance on when to act out, when to point the finger at yourself and hold yourself accountable, and when to actually talk to a teammate and teach him. I feel like Hackenberg has the leadership qualities when his team is successful, but doesn't yet have a feel for how to handle his teammates when things are going poorly.


  • The PSU DL is great at all four position; they make great use of their hands, control blockers, and keep LBs clean.
  • Maryland had some success with some read plays and designed QB runs, but this was a very difficult match up for them made more difficult by missing on some screen plays
  • Maryland hit some receivers breaking open between zones, but Brown wasn't extremely accurate and his WRs bobbled or dropped a ton of throws.
  • PSU had some run success early with some influence traps and BOB sweeps, but Maryland adjusted and away went the PSU rushing attack
  • Maryland won every one-on-one battle at the LOS; PSU's OL compounded mistakes to make it worse.
  • Likely is a good player on the outside and uses body position well.

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