Each week, usually on Tuesdays, I will post a piece focusing on advanced statistics and figures that stood out from the previous weekend’s college football games. The goal is to see if the numbers and eyes (my attempts at evaluating) line up. I won’t know what the findings mean every single time, which is okay. Talking through possible conclusions can be a worthwhile exercise, and hopefully you draw your own.
Who Is To Blame at Penn State? Everyone
Every person who evaluates college football players or covers the sport has written about Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg this week. I will too, but with a different angle. First, let’s open with his stat line for the game: 11 of 25 passing attempts for 103 yards (4.12 yards per attempt), one interception, and sacked 10 times.
The discussion around Hackenberg, Penn State’s offensive line, skill position players and the coaching staff does not seem balanced. It is not solely one side's’ fault that led to the complete destruction of the others. Every party is extremely guilty of incompetence.
Penn State almost strictly ran their offense out of 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs) against Temple, in shotgun and utilizing tempo between snaps. Apparently head coach James Franklin said this method worked more than others last season, so the plan was to integrate it more this season.
I charted every designed Penn State passing play against Temple. If you want a typical passing chart, here is one from Ian Wharton. Below are my findings. Additionally, I am not naive enough to think these figures tell the whole story, or that I’m smart enough to understand their meaning and unpack them, so feel free to interpret on your own.
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Pass Rushers On Sacks
By now we have all seen the GIF or Vine of Temple sacking Hackenberg despite only rushing two defenders. This resulted in some believing Temple created pressure with two or three rushers on multiple occasions. On the 10 sacks Temple tallied, they rushed 4.6 defenders on average, including delayed blitzes. Temple frequently sent five or six pass rushers after crowding the box and line of scrimmage while playing man coverage with a single (or no) safety over top. The offense had no answer.
Penn State’s offensive line is being crushed for not holding up against two pass rushers, but the much larger issue was PSU’s inability to handle and adjust to blitzes or green dogs. Is Christian Hackenberg allowed to make calls at the line when defenses show blitzes? Does Penn State teach “hot” concepts to their receivers when recognizing a stacked box? Neither seems to be the case. At times it seemed like the Nittany Lions did not know it was legal for the defense to blitz.
Time In the Pocket
For some reason I had the bright idea to time Penn State’s passes, from snap to action. Let’s eliminate screens from the equation.
On designed passing plays that did not end in a sack, Christian Hackenberg averaged 2.24 seconds from snap to action.
On designed passing plays that ended in a sack, Christian Hackenberg averaged 2.94 seconds from snap to in the grasp.
Obviously there is some human error to consider, as well as personal opinion on “action” and “grasp,” but some conclusions can be made about the overall. Generally, quarterbacks who hold the ball longer face more pressure. Penn State seemed to compensate, and arguably overcorrected, for their lack of protection with immediate passes. These were largely unsuccessful.
Quarterbacks have been criticized in the past for “catch and release” offenses. A high number of Hackenberg’s snaps qualify as such, and when he was given time, Hackenberg failed to recognize delayed blitzes or act in an appropriate time just as often as he made a play down the field.
What We Know: Penn State sided with a tempo, multiple receiver package versus Temple. Was it their attempt to be progressive? Every single facet of Penn State’s offense failed, most notably against extra rushers. The quarterback, the offensive line, the coaching staff and the skill players. Five of the 10 allowed sacks occurred in the 4th quarter, the time when Penn State needed to mount a comeback
What Don’t We Know: What is in this DVD?
— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) September 9, 2015
Pitt’s RB Replacement
One of the nation’s top running backs, Pittsburgh's James Conner, will miss the remainder of the season after tearing his MCL. Conner posted a 54 percent market share of Pittsburgh’s rushing totals in 2014 and 74 percent of the school’s rushing touchdowns (50 percent overall).
However, there might be hope for the Panthers.
Redshirt freshman Qadree Ollison replaced Conner against Youngstown State and rushed for 207 yards on 16 carries (12.9 ypc). This puts Ollison in some elite company. According to College Football Reference, only 15 FBS running backs averaged over 12.5 yards per carry (minimum of 10 carries) in week one since the 2000 season. Some of those names? Todd Gurley, James White, Jahvid Best, Earnest Graham and Johnathan Franklin.
More impressive? Ollison is now the second running back to average 12.5 ypc or better in his collegiate debut since 2000. The other is Le’Veon Bell (14.1 yps vs Western Michigan).
I do not think Ollison can replace the caliber of play Conner produced last year, but Pittsburgh’s offense won’t be completely crippled without their star ball carrier.
Derrick Henry, YAC Monster
Alabama 35, Wisconsin 17. Two ground based offenses. Crimson Tide running backs rushed for 247 yards on 32 carries (7.7 average). Badger running backs rushed for 39 yards on 17 carries (2.3 average).
Without playing in the fourth quarter, Alabama’s Derrick Henry rushed for 147 yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries (11.3 average). What stood out was Henry’s ability to create after contact. The listed 6’3/242 lbs running back created 59 yards after contact against Wisconsin. That means Henry’s yardage after contact exceeded Wisconsin’s RB rushing total by 20 yards. Yes, 37 of those yards occurred on one run, but what I find even more impressive is Henry’s consistent ability to gain one or two or four yards after contact. He always falls forward, and those yards add up. Big backs with balance, Le’Veon Bell and Jeremy Hill, have this skill and it has proved to be useful in the NFL. Henry is similar in this one area.
An intriguing look at transfer quarterbacks for Power 5 teams during college football’s first weekend from Ben Jones. The former “free agents” combined for a record of 9-2.
I count 11 transfer QBs who started for Power 5 teams in Week 1. Went 9-1, with Virginia Tech playing tonight: pic.twitter.com/4lzbPFX24g
Not to pile on Penn State, but I thought Nittany Lion fans could use some comic relief.
JT Barrett recorded just one pass and one run vs. Va. Tech and still had 22 more total yards than Christian Hackenberg generated vs. Temple.
— Lee Hudnell (@LeeHudnell) September 9, 2015
Texas already changed their offensive play caller to Jay Norvell, who acts as the school’s receivers coach. Perhaps this is one reason.
Tyrone Swoopes was 3-11 on passes thrown 5+ yards down the field vs ND.... yes, that's FIVE yards down the field
— CFB Film Room (@CFBFilmRoom) September 8, 2015
— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 8, 2015