By: Thomas Frank Carr
- Explosive Plays
It may not seem like it, but this was sort of a bomb shell on Franklin’s Tuesday press conference.
“I remember coming up in the profession, there wasn’t a lot of talk about explosive plays, and in the last 10, 15 years, I think there’s a lot of studies out there to say explosive plays probably have a more significant impact on winning than turnovers,” the head coach said.
Turnovers are the golden standard for coaches in assessing a team’s discipline and ability to win games. To be clear, he’s not saying that they aren’t still important. Franklin still counts them as one of the top statistics that he looks at each week, but winning the explosive play battle as a whole is possibly more important.
This came out of a conversation about analytics which is the study and evaluation of statistics. Franklin has preached explosive plays for several years now and his team has become adept at them. Explosive plays are rushes of 12 yards or more and passes of 15 yards or more.
For an example of how important explosive plays are, consider that last week, despite scoring 33 points, the offense seemed to struggle vs Pitt. The dip in explosive plays in the passing game was to blame for a ‘down’ performance for the offense. That should not be the case this week.
Speaking of turnovers….
It may seem like the Nittany Lions have been off to a hot start in the turnover battle in 2017, but actually had more to start the season last year. The defense has one less turnover on defense through three games (one fumble recovery) Part of the reason is that the offense has cut their turnovers drastically, and the defense has been much better against the run.
The team also preached turnovers in the offseason.
“I think takeaways is a big thing. The next step for us is to take those takeaways and turn them into touchdowns,” junior linebacker Koa Famer said during training camp.
The issue will be keeping the turnovers coming for the defense. They recovered exactly one fumble after the first two games last year. They had a decent amount of interceptions, but were nowhere near what could be described as consistent. Georgia State may not be the best test, but it would be a positive sign for the defense to see some turnovers on Saturday.
- Steven Gonzalez
Instead of talking about the line as a whole unit, this week we’re going to focus on a single player.
Last year redshirt freshman Steven Gonzalez was forced into the lineup due to injury and I was less than impressed. The massive Gonzalez (over 340 pounds) has very quick feet for a man his size, but played with the timidity you would expect from a young man playing in his first game as a college lineman.
Fast forward to the game vs Pitt and you would think Gonzalez is a totally different player. The redshirt sophomore is playing with confidence and looks like he belongs on the field, adding a size that the Nittany Lions haven’t had along the offensive line in years. How much confidence does he have?
“A lot,” said Franklin, who addressed the media on Tuesday. What Gonzalez is searching for now is consistency according to Franklin,
“He is a guy that showed flashes in the past that got us excited, but then the next play, he wouldn’t be playing up to our standards or even his own standards. And now he is doing that at a much higher level. He’s still not being the road grader that I think he can be play-in and play-out. But instead of having the highs and lows, he’s more [consistent] now.”
What the upper limit for the New Jersey native?
“There’s more there. Instead of just getting the job done, I think he can have a number of intimidation blocks a game. Like to see him drive a guy back five yards, pancake a guy, things like that. He has the ability to do that. We’ve just got to get it out of him,” Franklin said.
Even during the 2-2 start last year, Trace McSorley’s accuracy was never really an issue. He was putting the ball in the right place, his timing was just not down with his receivers. Last week, McSorley was uncharacteristically imprecise during the Nittany Lions 33-14 win over Pitt.
“It was on me at the beginning. Just a little bit jittery, my feet weren’t as settled down as they needed to be. I was missing on open throws, the emotions of everything coming into the day got the best of me.”
McSorley did a good jobs of still making plays despite his off day. He threw three touchdowns, including a 45 yard touchdown pass to Saquon Barkley to break the game open for Penn State. He doesn’t need to throw for 350 yards on Saturday, he just have to look sharper than he did last week. That starts with a completion percentage north of 60 percent.
- 3rd Down Drama
The Penn State offense has been dreadful on third down for two years now. Last season Penn State only completed 33 percent of their third down attempts while allowing 38 percent on defense.
Through two games this year, they have converted the exact same amount on offense but have lowered their third down percentage on defense to 26 percent.
That’s great news for the defense. They have improved dramatically against the run since last year and stuffed a very committed Pitt rushing attack last week to 3.4 yards per carry and only one touchdown in four redzone attempts.
It’s not so great for the offense. It’s still early in the season, but with so little progress since last season, you have to start thinking that this is the identity of the offense. Despite their high-flying antics, this may still be a feast or famine scoring attack.