When Penn State walked off the field after the Rose Bowl, the identity of the offense was abundantly clear. They were willing to take the numerous stuffed run plays because they knew that teams would have no choice but to respect the hell out of Saquon Barkley, and took advantage of that fact by repeatedly burned teams with the deep ball as a result. It was this mindset that allowed the Lions to become shockingly effective despite such poor overall efficiency.
Flash back to this past weekend, and Penn State's offense still put points on the board. 31 of them, to be exact. The process of how those points were being put up felt very familiar. Barkley was still facing routine pressure in the backfield. The offense as a whole still felt as likely to go three-and-out as they were to drive the field and score. And yet, something still felt different about it all.
At the conclusion of the 2016 season, Penn State went up against the Nos. 7 and 20 defenses per S&P+ in Wisconsin and USC, respectively. In those two games, McSorley connected on pass plays of 20 yards or more seven total times.
In the 2017 opener against Akron, he hit on five pass plays of the same ilk.
But against Pitt, just twice did a pass play exceed that mark. It doesn't sound like a huge difference, but when you take into consideration the difference in the quality of the Wisconsin and USC secondaries as compared to Pitt's, it becomes pretty notable that there really wasn't much of an effort to move the ball down the field in large chunks.
Could this just be a one-game trend? Absolutely. But perhaps it's actually indicative of something more. The coaches know all about the need for efficiency. For as good as Joe Moorhead is at dialing up calls for the deep ball at the perfect time, teams typically don't become playoff contenders by relying on them to be the lifeblood of the offense. Perhaps this is the offensive coordinator signaling his desire for the team to become more consistent with putting together extended drives as an alternative to looking for the 40-yard bombs.
Or maybe this is a side effect of losing Chris Godwin to the NFL. While Juwan Johnson and DaeSean Hamilton have already shown that they can go up and get it deep down the field this season, it's not hard to see that McSorley doesn't quite have the trust in them just yet that he had in Godwin's ability to win one-on-one.
There's also the matter of Pitt playing pretty decent defense. It was nothing to write home about (Narduzzi can't be happy about his defense giving up 31 points on just 54 plays), but it wasn't a horrible effort from the Panthers. Perhaps the pressure on McSorley was too much to allow anything to develop downfield.
What do you think? Was this weekend's offensive game plan a result of a shift in philosophy? A lack of confidence in the receivers deep down the field? Or was it simply an effort from Pitt to take away that part of the field?