Open the Screen Doors: Penn State Had No Answer for Ohio State's Screen Game on the Final Drive

By Nick Polak on September 30, 2018 at 5:29 pm
Sep 29, 2018; University Park, PA, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver K.J. Hill (14) crosses the goal line to score the go ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium.
James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

Let me start by saying this was, on the whole, an outstanding performance by the Penn State defense. Facing off against easily the best offense they've seen this year, the Nittany Lions did nearly everything they could to win this game for the offense, which left a good chunk of points on the field. Unfortunately, the one thing the defense wasn't able to shut down was the thing that the Buckeyes eventually used to win the game: screen passes.

With the ball on their own four-yard line and just 4:34 to go in the game, Ryan Day and the Ohio State offense took advantage of a very aggressive Penn State pass rush with screen passes that ended up constituting the two biggest plays of the drive.

On first-and-10 with their backs up against the wall, Dwayne Haskins threw a running back screen to J.K. Dobbins that ended up going for 35 yards, immediately easing the tension on the Ohio State offense and setting up what would be the game-winning drive.

This was the perfect combination of Ohio State setting up a screen perfectly and Penn State being totally unprepared to defend against it. The entire right side of the line sold the play beautifully, and Penn State's defensive line was completely unaware of what was happening. Considering how effective their screen game had been to this point, it was disappointing to see that.

Then, as the play develops, the linemen truck both Cam Brown and Amani Oruwariye (I can't quite get a good glimpse, but I believe that's No. 21). Koa Farmer is in position to make a play to limit this to a 10-yard gain, but takes an odd route, giving Dobbins a lane. The shifty running back then made Nick Scott look silly and danced his way to another 15-20 yards. It was a brutal start to the drive for a defense that looked way too invested in stopping a long pass play, despite the fact that Haskins had zero success in that area all night.

And then, there was what turned out to be the game-winner. I apologize in advance for subjecting you to seeing it again, but I'm the one who watched it multiple times as I was creating the gif, so I don't feel that bad.

This time, it wasn't nearly as much a function of the team being unprepared for the screen as it was they were completely unable to stop it despite setting up for it fairly well.

Scott redeems himself for the first play of the drive by forcing K.J. Hill to the sideline, where John Reid is waiting to make a play in a hole that's only about 2-3 yards wide. Hill makes a very subtle juke step and Reid goes flailing. It's a play that Reid has zero excuses to not make. From there, Tariq Casto-Fields is probably shoved in the back, taking out Brown and Scott, but it's hard to be too upset about that when the play should have already been over.

In the end, for as brilliant as Brent Pry's defense performed all night, they couldn't make a stop on either of these game-defining screen passes. This has been an area in which Penn State's defense has struggled for multiple years now, so don't expect teams to stop trying it. Hopefully the team can make some adjustments in that area over the bye week.

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