Northwestern Snap Counts: Fries Steps Up, Bowers Makes Debut, and a New Pecking Order Established?

By Nick Polak on October 11, 2017 at 9:04 am
Penn State Runningback Miles Sanders

© Jim Young-USA TODAY Sports

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One of the big questions surrounding Penn State over the past few weeks has been the right tackle spot. Andrew Nelson never looked like himself, and probably hasn't been truly healthy at any point this year. That led to some experimentation with Chasz Wright as a full-time starter, as well as redshirt freshman Will Fries, formerly of the left side of the line.

After this game, it appears as if Will Fries has full command of the job going forward. He didn't start the game but out-snapped Wright by a large margin. Fries wasn't the only one to further establish his place in the lineup, however.

Offense (80 plays)

Pos. First Team Second Team Third Team / Reserves
QB Trace McSorley (68) Tommy Stevens (12)  
RB Saquon Barkley (62) Andre Robinson (8) Miles Sanders (7) / Mark Allen (3) / Tommy Stevens (4)
WR Juwan Johnson (47) Irvin Charles (33)  
WR Saeed Blacknall (50) DeAndre Thompkins (30)  
WR DaeSean Hamilton (57) Brandon Polk (22)  
TE Mike Gesicki (59) Jon Holland (8) Tom Pancoast (6) / Nick Bowers (4)
LT Ryan Bates (80)    
LG Steven Gonzalez (80)    
C Connor McGovern (76) Zach Simpson (4)  
RG Brendan Mahon (76) Michal Menet (4)  
RT Will Fries (54) Chasz Wright (26)  
  • Did Will Fries Lock Up the Job?: Chasz Wright was in at right tackle for the first two series of the game but appeared in just two non-garbage time series after that. At no point did No. 77 look terribly impressive as a pass blocker or a run blocker (though the whole unit struggled with paving the way for Barkley). Fries, on the other hand, entered the game for the third offensive drive and proceeded to play in eight of the game's final 11 possessions. Not only that, but he looked pretty good doing it, at least as a pass blocker. The staff still has some problem solving to do on the right side of the line, but when they go back and look at the tape from this one, they're going to like what they see from Fries.
  • Tommy Back: We hadn't seen Stevens take a non-quarterback snap since the Georgia State beatdown, so seeing him back on the field was fun. He took all four of his non-QB snaps as a split back alongside McSorley and Barkley and touched the ball on three of those four plays. He caught the game's opening touchdown on his first snap, nearly ran in a touchdown on the next one, acted as a decoy on the third, and caught a swing pass on the fourth. It was nice to see them purposefully get him involved before the bye to give Michigan one more thing to prepare for.
  • Two-Tight End Set: On the second drive of the game, Jon Holland and Tom Pancoast replaced Mike Gesicki and DaeSean Hamilton for a two-tight end set on third down, which was ultimately unsuccessful.
  • Bowers Makes His Debut: After being hampered by injuries for nearly the past three seasons, we finally saw tight end Nick Bowers make his debut against Northwestern at the very end of the game. It's unrealistic to expect anything notable from Bowers this year, but his athleticism was always off the charts. If he's healthy enough to do some of the things he was able to do in high school, Moorhead could design something for him to catch defenses off-guard with.
  • Sanders, Blacknall Cement Their Position: Miles Sanders may have finished third in snaps behind Barkley and Robinson, but Robinson didn't take his first snap until the second offense entered the game. To be fair, Sanders only saw his first snaps just a couple of drives before that, but he still entered the game with the first team offense, likely signaling his ascension to the No. 2 role. Blacknall had been fighting with DeAndre Thompkins for the Z-receiver spot all season and seems to have taken control. Blacknall started the game and saw 20 more snaps than Thompkins. Both guys have their strengths and weaknesses and both will continue to serve important roles on this offense. But Blacknall just has some innate ability to make big plays even when they're not there like he nearly did with the sideline catch on which he barely stepped out of bounds before getting into the end zone.

Defense (75 plays)

Pos. First Team Second Team Third Team
DE Shareef Miller (41) Shane Simmons (20) Shaka Toney (13) / Daniel Joseph (9)
DT Parker Cothren (30) Tyrell Chavis (22) Robert Windsor (14) / Antonio Shelton (9)
DT Curtis Cothran (30) Kevin Givens (27) Ellison Jordan (11) / Ryan Buchholz (4)
DE Ryan Buchholz (37) Yetur Gross-Matos (20) Colin Castagna (10)
WLB Manny Bowen (45) Cam Brown (21) Jan Johnson (9)
MLB Jason Cabinda (46) Brandon Smith (17) Jake Cooper (9)
SLB Koa Farmer (34) Jarvis Miller (9) Nick Scott (2)
CB Christian Campbell (52) Zech McPhearson (12) Tariq Castro-Fields (3)
S Troy Apke (53) Ayron Monroe (22)  
S Marcus Allen (57) Nick Scott (9) Garrett Taylor (9)
CB Amani Oruwariye (63) Grant Haley (56)  
  • A Very Even Rotation: Miller and Buchholz started the game and only departed for two and four snaps respectively until the second quarter began. They're the clear go-to options on the edges, but there was also a true effort to get Gross-Matos, Simmons, and Toney into the game, even before garbage time. In the second quarter of a two-score game, Simmons and Toney played 15 of 26 snaps, and Gross-Matos played 11 of 26. Colin Castagna also got into the game for a three-play spell during the first drive.
  • Oruwariye Steps Up: No corner played more on Saturday than Oruwariye. Part of that was because he played the entirety of the fourth quarter when the game was well in-hand, but once he entered the game on the fifth snap, he left the field for just eight snaps the rest of the way. The highlight of the day was his interception, but he was all over the field. Losing John Reid before the season should be affecting the team in a major way right now, but Oruwariye's play has allowed for essentially zero drop off in the secondary.
  • Pecking Order Among the Reserves: The following players were the first to enter the game for the starters in this one- Givens for Cothran, Chavis for Cothren, Simmons for Miller, Scott for Allen, Gross-Matos for Buchholz, and Monroe for Apke. We've seen all of these guys play already, but the timing of their entrances plus their counts on the day seem to establish their roles as primary backups.
  • The Second Team Makes An Appearance: With Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State on the horizon, there may not be many opportunities in the near future to get time for the third stringers on the defense. So it was good to see guys like Daniel Joseph, Ellison Jordan, Antonio Shelton, Jake Cooper, Jarvis Miller, Jan Johnson, Zech McPhearson, and Garrett Taylor get into the game for nearly 10 snaps each.
  • 3 Down Linemen: There were three snaps in which Penn State rolled with just three down linemen. On all three of those snaps, Kevin Givens filled the role of the 0-technique, and Shaka Toney lined up as one of the defensive ends. Shareef Miller joined them on two of the snaps, and Buchholz was on the field for the other.
  • 4th Down: Penn State faced three fourth downs against the Wildcats. On two of them, Brent Pry subbed out Koa Farmer for Grant Haley. Kevin Givens was also in for all three plays. It's clear that Pry and Spencer trust Givens in critical situations.
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