The first 30 minutes of Penn State's clash with Pitt was awfully reminiscent of what Appalachian State surprisingly managed to do in Week 1: stunt on a Nittany Lion defense that still didn't seem to have an identity or an answer for its fallacies in this early season.
That defense gifted App State 28 fourth-quarter points, allowing the Mountaineers to take Penn State the distance in an overtime thriller. It gave up tons of big breaks as the players missed assignment after assignment. And though Pittsburgh only garnered six total points in the entire Week 2 contest on Saturday evening at Heinz Field, the Panthers' run game sliced through Penn State's defense like a hot knife through butter, tallying 214 rushing yards before the teams even broke for halftime.
Fast forward to the third quarter, and you'd think that a completely new set of defensive ends and tackles took the place of whoever lined up across from Pitt's offensive line just 10 minutes prior.
So, what happened?
James Franklin, a man usually jeered for "only being good at recruiting and nothing else," explained (in what may have been his most technical-centric answer to a question we've heard) the subtle technique adjustment for his defensive ends in his post-game media conference.
Super technical football talk here but Franklin gives a good reason for why they stopped the run in the 3rd quarter. It was all about DE technique against the counter. pic.twitter.com/ef13o4dwYt
— Paddy Cotter (@PaddyCotter) September 9, 2018
Controlling gaps to avoid the line movement the Pitt offense used to split Penn State's defensive ends and break runs for chunks of yardage turned the Panthers on their head, took running back Qadree Ollison completely out of the game, intensified the pressure on quarterback Kenny Pickett, and pushed back their offensive line enough to force a safety.
Pitt went from gobbling up 231 yards of offense in the first half to just 69 yards on 31 plays in the second, including minus-2 yards in the third frame – all thanks to one tweak. That's an eye-popping shift in power.
Perhaps now, these 2018 Wild Dogs have finally found their identity, and with Kent State and Illinois next up on the Lions' schedule, they'll continue to settle into their roles, improve from early lapses in control, and impressively shut down all opposing offenses that stand in their way of victory.