A strong defensive performance in a losing effort. Let’s hope this doesn’t become a theme in 2017…
Going into the season, I had some questions about depth along the defensive line but felt pretty good about depth in the back 7. Just four weeks in, that script has flipped.
- The usual gang along the defensive line, aside from Juan Harris’s absence as the third nose tackle due to injury. DL Coach Mark Hagan appears to be pretty confident in his top 8 guys, and there has been very little drop-off when the second unit is on the field.1
- In the back 7, this game represents the least amount of substitution than I’ve seen from a Tom Allen defense. The three non-starters that played – Zeke Walker at boundary safety, Reakwon Jones at WLB and Dameon Willis at MLB – saw less than 15 snaps in total. In light of the injuries to Marcelino Ball, A’Shon Riggins and Kiante Walton and given some of the very real drop-off from 1st to 2nd teamers at free safety, Husky (after Tony Fields), WLB and field corner, Coach Allen’s decision to pretty much ride with the starters is more than defensible. Whether it’s sustainable for the rest of the season is another question. Hopefully, Riggins and Ball return soon, but perhaps more importantly, hopefully 2nd teamers like Jones, Walker, Willis, Ben Bach, Khalil Bryant, Tyler Green and Raheem Layne can use the Charleston Southern game to build some trust with the coaching staff.
In 17 games with Tom Allen at the helm, the two highest blitz percentages have both come in games against Penn State – 74% in 2016 and 67% on Saturday. It’s safe to conclude that Ol’ Tom has a clear idea of how he wants to attack Trace McSorley. While IU didn’t generate quite as much pressure as they did in last year’s contest (27% to 32%), it was still IU’s best pass rushing performance this year. All-Everything WLB Tegray Scales led the way with 3 sacks and 4 total pressures.
Based on his abuse of then-true freshman corner A’Shon Riggins in last season’s game, it stood to reason that Penn State OC Joe Moorhead would identify a matchup he liked and attack it. That matchup was DaeSean Hamilton in the slot against safety-turned-Husky Tony Fields.2 IU chose to employ a fairly aggressive gameplan, with frequent 5-man pressures, combined with man coverage and a single-high safety. That gameplan required using the Husky against the slot receiver, meaning Coach Allen & Co. were willing to roll the dice with Fields locked up on Hamilton. To be fair, Fields has been quite good in coverage at boundary safety in 2016 and so far this season. While he wasn’t lit up quite as badly as Riggins in 2016, Tony didn’t win this matchup. In fairness, Hamilton also beat Jonathan Crawford on a TD – with the help of offensive pass interference that was called and then, mysteriously, not called.3
IU did an admirable job limiting one of the things that Penn State likes to do best: hit deep passes. McSorley was only 1 of 4 on deep throws and 4 of 10 on throws over 10 yards…of course, 2 of those 4 completions were TDs.
For the second straight year, the Hoosiers shut down Saquon Barkley on the ground. Oh sure, he still did some damage on short passes out of the backfield and on the opening kickoff, but strictly on the ground, he struggled. In all, Penn State barely cleared 2 yards-per-carry in between the tackles, and didn’t exactly set the world on fire on the outside.
So Penn State hit one deep pass, Barkley did virtually nothing on the ground, and IU still lost by 31. It turns out special teams and turnovers are important.