Key Play(s): Ban the Fade

By John Morgan on November 18, 2020 at 12:00 pm
Nov 14, 2020; Lincoln, Nebraska, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers corner back Dicaprio Bootle (7) reacts after the fourth down pass was knocked away against the Penn State Nittany Lions in the second half at Memorial Stadium.
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State dropped its fourth straight game and now sits winless to start the 2020 season. We usually take a look at the key play in each game that may have turned the tide or proved to be the most important in the game. This week, there were too many mistakes so this is now more of a petition than anything. 

One of the biggest issues this season has been the red zone woes of the offense. The Nittany Lions are 8 of 19 in the red zone which equates to a 42% conversion rate. The play-calling has already been scrutinized, but the one play that seems to set the fans over the edge is the dreaded fade pattern.

In the Nittany Lions loss to Maryland, trailing 7-0, James Franklin elected to go for a touchdown on the first drive. Facing a 4th and 3 at the Terps 7, Sean Clifford threw a fade to wide receiver Parker Washington that fell incomplete. The play may not have mattered, but with all the weapons on offense, the high-risk play gave Maryland a boost of confidence and they never looked back.

The Nittany Lions climbed back into the game Saturday and had the ball with four minutes to go trailing 30-23 at the Huskers 11-yard line. On first down, quarterback Will Levis floated a ball to Parker Washington down the right side that was slightly behind him and incomplete. That fade you can live with, but on second down offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca dug deep into the playbook and called another fade to the other side. The pass was intended for Jahan Dotson and was overthrown too far to the outside and also incomplete. 

Admittedly neither pass was terrible, but the thing with the fade is the margin of error is so small that it put Penn State at 3rd-and-10 and an obvious passing down. The next two passes were incomplete and despite getting the ball back, the Nittany Lions had wasted a golden opportunity to tie the game.

There are many issues that Penn State must address before Saturday, but red zone execution ranks close to the top of the list. The early mistakes cost Penn State in the loss to Nebraska, so please consider this is our formal request for the fade pattern to go by the way of its name and disappear.