Penn State vs. Indiana Snap Counts: Depth Already Being Tested on Offense

By Dan Smith on October 26, 2020 at 8:55 am
Oct 24, 2020; Bloomington, Indiana, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) fakes a hand off to Penn State Nittany Lions running back Devyn Ford (28) the first quarter of the game against Indiana at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports
Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

We have already discussed some of the astounding aspects of Saturday's heartbreaking overtime loss to Indiana. Now, we will use that game tape to see what we can learn about the 2020 iteration of the Penn State Nittany Lions.

For those who are new to snap counts: we count penalties if the play was run in full (i.e. called back for holding) but not if the snap never occurred (i.e. delay of game or false start). Additionally, we do count two-point attempts but do not count special teams plays like field goals or punts.

Offense (91 plays)

Pos. First Team Second Team Third Team
QB Sean Clifford (90) Will Levis (1)  
RB Devyn Ford (64) Keyvone Lee (13) Caziah Holmes (9) / Noah Cain (5)
WR Jahan Dotson (84) Isaac Lutz (10)  
WR Daniel George (61) KeAndre Lambert-Smith (28)  
WR Parker Washington (66)    
TE Pat Freiermuth (87) Brenton Strange (23)  
LT Rasheed Walker (91)    
LG Mike Miranda (91)    
C Michal Menet (91)    
RG CJ Thorpe (55) Des Holmes (36)  
RT Will Fries (90) Caedan Wallace (6)  
  • Quarterback: Levis was actually used twice, but the first time ended in a delay of game penalty. That was somehow the better of his two plays, as his only official snap resulted in a fumble on an almost certain scoring drive, as it was first-and-goal. Needless to say, Levis did not appear in the second half.
  • Running Back: Cain's injury on just the fifth play of the game was a killer, as it was pretty clear that they had gameplanned for Cain's particular running style. Ford struggled to replicate Cain's abilities in the gameplan, though he did well with picking up blitzes. Lee was the running back who stood out the most, as he did well on the only drive in which he saw the bulk of the carries (the first drive of the second half, seventh drive overall). Lee only saw the field on three of the more than 30 snaps from there on out, which is worth questioning James Franklin about. 
  • Wide Receiver: Cam Sullivan-Brown did not play despite being listed as the starter earlier in the week. No explanation was given. That meant that Strange started as a second tight end. Washington is going to be relied upon right away, it seems, and Dotson is unsurprisingly being leaned on heavily. With Sullivan-Brown out, they were down to four scholarship wide receivers they felt they could play. That resulted in walk-on Lutz seeing some game action. With all due respect to Lutz, those are some dire straits at the wide receiver position.
  • Tight End: Freiermuth is a workhorse, that we already knew. They seem comfortable with Strange sliding right into the role held by Nick Bowers last season. Strange got the start; with Sullivan-Brown not playing, they went two tight ends from the jump. Zack Kuntz was only on special teams units.
  • Offensive Line: If there was truly a twist in the gameplan from new offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, it was the use of packages with six offensive linemen. This was not exclusively a goal line offensive package, either. And, these were the only times in which Wallace appeared in the game, with the exception of the first play of the game, where Wallace inexplicably took one snap at right tackle before yielding to starter Fries. They are rotating less on the offensive line this season, and the only platoon is with Thorpe and Holmes at right guard.

Defense (65 plays)

Pos. First Team Second Team Third Team
DE Jayson Oweh (57) Shane Simmons (11)  
DT PJ Mustipher (57) Fred Hansard (3)  
DT Antonio Shelton (40) Hakeem Beamon (22)  
DE Shaka Toney (51) Adisa Isaac (11)  
LB Lance Dixon (35) Jesse Luketa (30)  
LB Ellis Brooks (56)    
LB Brandon Smith (29)    
CB Tariq Castro-Fields (65) Marquis Wilson (15)  
S Jaquan Brisker (62) Jonathan Sutherland (3)  
S Lamont Wade (59) Ji'Ayir Brown (32)  
CB Joey Porter Jr. (59) Daequan Hardy (18)  
  • Defensive End: They did not rotate much because they did not have to. This was basically what you would expect, with slightly more imbalance due to the volume of short drives by Indiana that kept Penn State's defense fresh. Toney was briefly shaken up in the first half but quickly returned.
  • Defensive Tackle: A similar story to defensive end. Interestingly, Beamon seems to be the third tackle. He saw a lot of action on the late fourth Indiana touchdown drive, as he is more mobile on the inside than Shelton or Hansard. Judge Culpepper did not appear, though he played on the punt unit as part of Jordan Stout's wedge.
  • Linebacker: Like running back and wide receiver, the depth at this position suddenly seems thin. Micah Parsons opted out, and then Luketa was ejected in the third quarter for targeting. They do not yet trust Smith to be on the field on obvious passing downs; interestingly, Dixon actually saw the most action on the Indiana touchdown drive to tie the game late in the fourth. He will be relied on again next week with Luketa suspended for the targeting. Curtis Jacobs appeared on special teams but not on defense, and Charlie Katshir did not play at all.
  • Cornerback: More surprises here, on the heels of the revelation that Porter won the starting job. He showed why on Saturday, playing very well. They basically did not rotate here, with one possession only where Porter sat for Wilson. With Wade playing slot corner in most cases, there was limited need for anyone else. Hardy played in dime situations, and Wilson also occasionally joined the dime packages, which had a few different looks. Most notably, Keaton Ellis did not see a single defensive snap. He was dressed and played on a special teams unit.
  • Safety: With Brisker taking over Garrett Taylor's role from a season ago, Brown has slid right into Brisker's old job. When Wade goes to slot corner, Brown is on the field as the third safety. Sutherland played one early three-and-out and was relegated to special teams the rest of the way.

Special Teams

Here is an approximation of the six special teams units. Since we do not have access to all-22 footage, it is not possible to tabulate special teams snaps, but we can get a ballpark picture of these units throughout the game.

Kickoff Kick Return Punt Punt Return Field Goal FG Block
Jordan Stout (K) Devyn Ford (KR) Jordan Stout (P) Jahan Dotson (PR) Jake Pinegar / Jordan Stout (K) Joey Porter Jr.
Jonathan Sutherland Keaton Ellis Chris Stoll (LS) Joey Porter Jr. Jordan Stout / Rafael Checa (H) Tariq Castro-Fields
Max Chizmar Isaac Lutz PJ Mustipher (W) Marquis Wilson Chris Stoll (LS) Jaquan Brisker
Isaac Lutz Jonathan Sutherland Mike Miranda (W) Drew Hartlaub Brenton Strange Lamont Wade
Ji'Ayir Brown Daniel George Judge Culpepper (W) Jonathan Sutherland Rasheed Walker Ellis Brooks
Joseph Bruno Drew Hartlaub Jesse Luketa Isaac Lutz Will Fries Brandon Smith
Brandon Smith Zack Kuntz Brandon Smith Daniel George Caedan Wallace Jesse Luketa
Curtis Jacobs Nick Tarburton Ellis Brooks Ji'Ayir Brown CJ Thorpe Jayson Oweh
Lance Dixon Brandon Smith Drew Hartlaub Curtis Jacobs Anthony Whigan PJ Mustipher
Drew Hartlaub Brenton Strange Jonathan Sutherland Shaka Toney Mike Miranda Antonio Shelton
Daequan Hardy Lamont Wade Tariq Castro-Fields Jesse Luketa / Max Chizmar Zack Kuntz Adisa Isaac


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