Minnesota Snap Counts: Penn State Works Around Missing Cain, Shelton, Gordon

By Dan Smith on November 12, 2019 at 9:00 am
Nov 9, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions tight end Pat Freiermuth (87) rushes with the ball after making a catch in the second half against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State's 31-26 loss to Minnesota on Saturday was unique in a number of ways. With them playing behind almost from the jump, they saw the least amount of rotation of any game this season. Running back, defensive tackle, and cornerback in particular saw notably tighter rotations.

Offense (75 plays)

Pos. First Team Second Team Third Team
QB Sean Clifford (75)    
RB Journey Brown (62) Devyn Ford (7) Ricky Slade (6)
WR Jahan Dotson (73)    
WR K.J. Hamler (73)    
WR Daniel George (30) Justin Shorter (14) Dan Chisena (13)
TE Pat Freiermuth (75) Nick Bowers (22)  
LT Rasheed Walker (54) Des Holmes (21)  
LG Steven Gonzalez (75)    
C Michal Menet (75)    
RG Mike Miranda (39) C.J. Thorpe (36)  
RT Will Fries (75)    
  • Brown a Feature Back in Cain's Absence: With Cain out due to the injury he suffered early in the Michigan State game, Penn State decided to lean on its best remaining back for much of this game. A very balanced rotation suddenly got as aggressively one-sided as it has been in recent years. Brown had a solid game. Slade erred majorly in his brief appearance, running the wrong way on two-point conversion and costing the team two points. Ford's only appearance was after Brown took himself out of a second half drive after taking a big hit.
  • Continued Woes at Wide Receiver: The fifth possession perfectly encapsulated how poorly Penn State's wide receivers (aside from K.J. Hamler) played in this game. Shorter was in on first down, but whiffed so badly on a block that led to a no gain for Ricky Slade that he was pulled from the game for George. Two plays later, George dropped a perfect pass that would have converted a third down. Shorter would later be benched again after dropping a sure fire touchdown in the second half. Chisena dropped yet another deep ball that hit him in the facemask after that. The 2018 team was infamous for its poor wide receiver play, and it is starting to appear that little has changed.
  • Freiermuth Goes the Distance, Team Leans on Two Tight End Sets: Bowers got a decent chunk of playing time despite Freiermuth playing the entire game. The team's two tight end sets have been about Bowers' comfort now that he is healthy, along with the disastrous situation at the third wide receiver spot.
  • Holmes and Thorpe Continuing to Get Key Snaps: It appears that Thorpe and Miranda are co-starters; the former started against Michigan State, and they play evenly. However, Holmes' situation is interesting. Walker is clearly ahead of him, but they are not afraid to throw Holmes into games late. It did not work in previous games, but his appearance on the 10th possession was on the drive that ended with the Brown touchdown. That said, they could have been called for a delay of game penalty on that touchdown, as Holmes was late getting set. There is still plenty to work on.
  • Ricky Rahne Called for Two Red Zone Fade Passes to 5-foot-9 Hamler: Perhaps he was driven mad by the poor play of bigger receivers Shorter and George.

Defense (63 plays)

Pos. First Team Second Team Third Team
DE Yetur Gross-Matos (42) Jayson Oweh (21)  
DT Rob Windsor (56) Judge Culpepper (6) Yetur Gross-Matos (1)
DT P.J. Mustipher (42) Fred Hansard (20)  
DE Shaka Toney (43) Shane Simmons (20)  
OLB Micah Parsons (55) Jesse Luketa (7)  
MLB Jan Johnson (51) Ellis Brooks (3)  
OLB Cam Brown (55) Brandon Smith (4)  
CB Tariq Castro-Fields (59) Marquis Wilson (5)  
S Lamont Wade (56) Jonathan Sutherland (12)  
S Garrett Taylor (51) Jaquan Brisker (18)  
CB John Reid (58) Keaton Ellis (8)  
  • Mustipher Elevated, Windsor Logs Heavy Minutes with Shelton Suspended: Mustipher started, and he played plenty, rotating with Hansard. The team does not trust Culpepper, who played six snaps, 33% of them ending in touchdowns. This meant that Windsor played nearly every snap. Fortunately (?) for him, long drives by the Penn State offense and quick scores by Minnesota's offense limited the defense's playing time.
  • Gordon and Johnson Injuries Leave Two True Freshmen at Second Team Corner: They used Ellis and Wilson sparingly, but were generally rewarded for doing so, as both freshmen forced fumbles during this one. That said, Ellis was in coverage on a long first half touchdown pass.
  • Parsons Benched for First Series Due to Disciplinary Issue: Luketa started in his place, and Penn State's defense got torched. It is likely not really Luketa's fault, though Minnesota definitely feasted at times on the middle of the field, particularly during the first half.
  • Smith's Limited Run Has Notable Blemish: On Smith's first defensive snap of the game, the true freshman bit badly on a play action and allowed a chunk play along the sideline. The play seemed designed to key in on him, and Tanner Morgan held the ball for an extra beat at the mesh point before ripping off a good throw.
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