Indiana Snap Counts: New Looks at Wide Receiver, Secondary

By Dan Smith on November 19, 2019 at 9:00 am
Nov 16, 2019; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions wide receiver Mac Hippenhammer (12) makes a catch during the second quarter against the Indiana Hoosiers at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Indiana 34-27.
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State survived against Indiana, taking advantage of some mistakes by the Hoosiers and letting its running game take over late, as it did against Iowa. The Nittany Lions shook a couple of things up in this one, particularly at wide receiver, cornerback, and safety.

Offense (69 plays)

Pos. First Team Second Team Third Team
QB Sean Clifford (69) Will Levis (3)  
RB Journey Brown (42) Devyn Ford (23) Ricky Slade (6)
WR Jahan Dotson (58) Daniel George (18)  
WR Dan Chisena (34) Justin Shorter (23)  
WR Mac Hippenhammer (30) K.J. Hamler (14)  
TE Pat Freiermuth (67) Nick Bowers (27)  
LT Rasheed Walker (38) Des Holmes (31)  
LG Steven Gonzalez (69)    
C Michal Menet (69)    
RG C.J. Thorpe (36) Mike Miranda (33)  
RT Will Fries (69)    
  • Chisena Starts, Shorter and George Demoted: In a surprising but not shocking move, Penn State looked to shake things up at wide receiver and started former walk-on Chisena. Like Shorter and George recently, Chisena failed to make an impact. The outside receiver spot opposite Dotson has been a problem for weeks now, and there does not seem to be a solution that will emerge during the 2019 season. On this note, Cam Sullivan-Brown remains out with an undisclosed injury that has sidelined him since the Purdue game.
  • Hippenhammer Steps Up for Injured Hamler: Hamler's injury on a mid-first half kick return knocked him out of the game and put his status for Ohio State in doubt. Reserve Hippenhammer entered and managed to haul in a 15-yard reception, his first of the season. Hippenhammer still has two more drops than receptions this season, but hopefully, his confidence can begin rebuilding from here.
  • Will Levis Goes 1-for-3: The Nittany Lions elected to use a set in which Levis lined up at quarterback and Clifford lined up at wide receiver. Levis took the snap, faked a handoff, and ran into the middle of the offensive line. It failed twice but did work on a fourth-down conversion during the 18-play drive that sealed the game.
  • Brown/Ford Tandem: Things were slightly more balanced in the backfield after Brown's dominating playing time against Minnesota. This came in the form of Ford playing several consecutive possessions in the first half. The two alternated more frequently mid-drive in the second half, allowing both to remain fresh on that lengthy drive.
  • Platoons Continue on Offensive Line: Thorpe started, and he and Miranda played almost evenly. That has been typical this season. What was interesting in this one was the high number of snaps for Holmes at left tackle. This was primarily because of the 18-play drive that he was in on. That said, Thorpe and Miranda actually split that drive. They made a very rare offensive line substitution mid-drive, with Miranda entering for Thorpe when Levis entered the game and then staying on the field for the rest of the drive.

Defense (71 plays)

Pos. First Team Second Team Third Team
DE Shaka Toney (49) Shane Simmons (15) Daniel Joseph (8)
DT Rob Windsor (43) Fred Hansard (17) Yetur Gross-Matos (12)
DT Antonio Shelton (40) P.J. Mustipher (25) Judge Culpepper (2)
DE Yetur Gross-Matos (36) Jayson Oweh (25) Adisa Isaac (9)
OLB Micah Parsons (60) Brandon Smith (4)  
MLB Jan Johnson (33) Ellis Brooks (18)  
OLB Cam Brown (47) Jesse Luketa (12)  
CB John Reid (70) Keaton Ellis (18)  
S Garrett Taylor (70)    
S Lamont Wade (70) Jaquan Brisker (12)  
CB Tariq Castro-Fields (62) Marquis Wilson (24)  
  • Shake Up in Nickel Set: For most of the 2019 season, Penn State's nickel set has featured safety (and former cornerback) Wade covering the slot, with second-string safety Brisker entering to play "center field." This change appeared to be an effort to find a role for Wade, get more rest for Reid, and a response to the injury to slot corner Donovan Johnson, who has been in a sling since the Pitt game. This made the abrupt change on Saturday noteworthy when Reid returned to his role in the slot on nickel downs after Whop Philyor burned Wade in the first half. This left Brisker with little to do after that, appearing on a couple of dime downs and nothing more.
  • Mess at the Goal Line: On Indiana's second drive, the Hoosiers got to second-and-goal inside the 5-yard line. Penn State decided to go with five linemen and linebackers for a "goal line" defensive package. Indiana exploited this by electing to pass, and only a terrific play by Parsons at the 1-yard line kept them out of the end zone. In response, Penn State attempted to put its secondary back on the field for third down, but only two of the extra box players left the field, forcing the Nittany Lions to burn a timeout to avoid a 12-man penalty. Indiana would score on the next play.
  • Starting Safeties Mostly Go the Distance, Sutherland Special Teams Only: As mentioned before, Brisker's playing time was significantly cut when Reid took the slot corner spot from Wade on the third defensive possession. Jonathan Sutherland, meanwhile, did not appear on defense at all in this game. Penn State had been rotating its safeties more frequently than in any season in the James Franklin era. This limited run by the backups is much more reminiscent of recent seasons.
  • Injured Windsor and Castro-Fields Both Return: Windsor appeared to injure his hand on the first play of Indiana's fifth drive, checking out for Hansard almost immediately. Culpepper got a brief run later on that same drive as a result. Windsor would return in the second half with his hand heavily wrapped. Castro-Fields, meanwhile, was shaken up and taken out of the game for the fourth time this season. He did return shortly thereafter, but it's fair to wonder how healthy he is or has been for some time now. 
  • Isaac and Joseph Contribute on Line: The rotations had been tight on the defensive line in recent games, but the third unit at defensive end got in a couple of times in this one. Isaac already burned his redshirt this season.
  • Wilson Ahead of Ellis: The two true freshmen have been leaned on more than expected at cornerback, with injuries to Donovan Johnson and Trent Gordon being the biggest culprits. Ellis was an early enrollee who was ahead of Wilson up until this point, but Wilson played more in this one. This matches up with the staff's raving about his ability.
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