Evaluating the Offensive Line's Performance Against Michigan

By Nick Polak on November 7, 2018 at 8:00 am
Nov 3, 2018; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines defensive lineman Chase Winovich (15) rushes on Penn State Nittany Lions offensive lineman Will Fries (71) in the second half at Michigan Stadium.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

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Anytime there's a blowout loss like the one Penn State suffered against Michigan, one assumes that poor offensive line play was a key factor. Anyone who watched the game knows that the Nittany Lions failed to generate any push in the run game, but how did they fare in pass protection against the stout Wolverine front?

We've highlighted each of the sacks by the Michigan defense, as well as two plays in which Penn State protected the pocket well to dive further into the play of the offensive line in Saturday's defeat.

2nd-and-10 at 50 (13:35 - 1st): McSorley sacked by Chase Winovich for a loss of 6 yards

Not too hard to dissect what happened here. Chasz Wright got the start over Will Fries but did not play after this series. Winovich didn't do anything fancy here, just plowed straight ahead into Wright, knocking him backward and giving himself a straight line to the quarterback.

This sack is especially frustrating upon re-watch because if you look in the top right of the screen, you'll see the Michigan safety have a true moment of panic upon noticing that K.J. Hamler has torched his coverage man. He immediately has to turn his back to catch up, which he clearly would not have been able to do. Had McSorley been given a moment to scan the field and step into a throw, Hamler could have had an easy touchdown.

3rd-and-16 at PSU 44 (12:45 - 1st): McSorley sacked by Josh Uche for a loss of 8 yards

This one you don't need to be as upset about. This play came right after the previous sack, and unlike the first one, this was actually just a great play by Uche. He simply uses his elite speed to deke through Ryan Bates, and Steven Gonzalez isn't able to switch onto him quickly enough to slow him down. Miles Sanders is also back in protection, but bounces to the edge of the pocket rather quickly (and seemingly without reason. Yes, the defensive tackle ended up being where he was but had he stayed in and taken on Uche, McSorley may have had a chance to at least throw the ball away or get it to Hamler on the snag route.

3rd-and-8 at PSU 25 (5:30 - 2nd): McSorley sacked by Uche for a loss of 7 yards

Another textbook stunt here by Uche, but there's no reason that this shouldn't be picked up by an offensive line with the talent level of Penn State. The defensive tackle to Uche's left does his job perfectly by engaging contact with Gonzalez, but one of two things has to happen from there. Either Gonzalez needs to recognize the very basic stunt that's being run and disengage so he can plug the opening, or Michal Menet needs to recognize that Connor McGovern has his assignment under control and that there's a man darting past him on the left.

Winovich also gets around Will Fries on this play, but had Uche been taken care of, McSorley would have had a pocket to step up into. Had he been able to do that, he may have been able to hit DeAndre Thompkins on the crossing pattern for a sure first down (though shallow crossing patterns are not McSorley's strength).

1st-and-10 at PSU 41 (1:12 - 2nd): McSorley pass complete to KJ Hamler for 20 yards

Here we see what Penn State's offensive line is capable of. It's Michigan's typical four-man pressure, and each man is able to do his job and allow McSorley the chance to climb through the pocket and find K.J. Hamler on a long-developing, deep crossing pattern that required moving through two different Michigan zones. The Wolverines didn't try anything tricky here with twists or blitzes, and the Lions were able to handle it. Still, just because it was a straightforward assignment for each member of the line, they did a nice job giving their quarterback time and space to make a nice throw.

3rd-and-10 at MICH 39 (1:01 - 2nd): McSorley sacked by Jordan Glasgow for a loss of 7 yards

Michigan started by showing a three-man rush look on this third down, but quickly shifted both linebackers (Vipers?) Jordan Glasgow and Khaleke Hudson to the line of scrimmage as extra rushers. Whether McGovern, from his right guard position, didn't see Hudson move up or simply trusted Sanders behind him to make the block, but the result of the right side alignment left Fries and Sanders up against Rashan Gary and Hudson. That's not a good matchup for Penn State.

Hudson easily gets around Sanders as Winovich gets around Gonzalez on the inside, forcing McSorley to step up. Glasgow, who was matched up against Bates, watched the play develop and has an easy path to McSorley when after he's forced up. Simultaneously, Gary beats Fries and the two converge on McSorley. It was wishful thinking for Penn State to think that Sanders would be able to handle a player as quick as Hudson, but Gonzalez getting beaten by Winovich on the inside further complicated matters.

2nd-and-9 at PSU 21 (8:45 - 3rd): McSorley pass incomplete to Mac Hippenhammer

Another straight up four-man pressure from Michigan here, with each guy assigned to the man in front of them. Penn State did well enough in these situations all day, but being able to block up plays like this is assumed at this level. Still, they gave McSorley plenty of time to throw here which is all you can ask for an offensive line. Unfortunately, the quarterback's throw wasn't in the same stratosphere as Hippenhammer, and the team was faced with yet another third down. This would be McSorley's last throw before being taken out for Tommy Stevens the first time. A healthy McSorley with that much time in the pocket makes that throw every single time.

1st-and-10 at MICH 42 (5:16 - 4th): Tommy Stevens sacked by Hudson for a loss of 8 yards

Penn State would finally find the end zone at the end of this drive, but this play didn't inspire much confidence. Hudson walks up to the line as an extra blitzer and is past Fries just four yards upfield into his rush. Fries had a tough time with the speed of Michigan's edge rushers all night, and this play was no exception. Still, he did what he was supposed to do here after getting beat. Everyone else on the line was containing their man and had created a pocket. Stevens had space to step up if he chosen to do so, but instead tried to escape out to the left and Hudson was easily able to drag him down from there.

McGovern would be beaten shortly after that by Winovich, but the play was already over at that point. While this wasn't a great play by Fries, he did enough to funnel Hudson around where Stevens should have stepped up into. This is more on Stevens than the offensive line.


Given what they were up against, it wasn't quite as poor a pass blocking performance as one may have thought as the game concluded. They certainly could have done better, but they afforded their quarterback time to throw more often than not. Still, I don't think that Matt Limegrover will walk away from this game with any sort of consolation prize, because his unit still has a ton of work to do to find consistency in the pass game, as well as figure out what in the world has happened to them as run blockers.

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