Penn State Depth Chart and Snap Counts, Week 3: Interesting Twists on Offense

By Dan Smith on September 21, 2021 at 8:30 am
Sep 18, 2021; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions running back John Lovett (10) runs the ball on a punt return against the Auburn Tigers during the first quarter at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports
© Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

No. 6 Penn State is 3-0 and riding high after earning two impressive ranked wins in the early part of the schedule. There were some twist and turns with the roster management Saturday, so let's dive right into what we saw.

Offense (66 plays)

Pos. First Team Second Team Third Team
QB Sean Clifford (66)    
RB Noah Cain (44) John Lovett (18) Keyvone Lee (2) / Devyn Ford (1)
WR Jahan Dotson (55) Marquis Wilson (5)  
WR KeAndre Lambert-Smith (44) Cam Sullivan-Brown (10)  
WR Parker Washington (34) Winston Eubanks (2)  
TE Brenton Strange (60) Theo Johnson (33) Tyler Warren (20)
LT Rasheed Walker (66)    
LG Eric Wilson (49) Bryce Effner (19)  
C Mike Miranda (66)    
RG Juice Scruggs (66)    
RT Caedan Wallace (66)    
  • Lovett Enters the Running Back Rotation: The Baylor transfer saw his first action after missing two games for disciplinary reasons. He provided a spark off the bench - one that was much needed. They seem keen to use him in the screen passing game as well.
  • Lee Benched: Lee has been perhaps the most electric running back for Penn State this season, but barely saw the field in this one. The reason is obvious: he has now fumbled in back-to-back games. He has one very simple mission to get back into the mix at running back, and that is to focus on ball security.
  • Effner Mixes in with Wilson at Left Guard: Wilson mixed it up with Anthony Whigan in week one, then was the clear starter last week until the game was out of hand. However, in this one, he yielded two first-half series to Bryce Effner, the reserve who can play both guard and tackle. They're clearly still trying to figure out the rotation behind their starters, and Effner showed reasonably well. His first series was the fifth one of the game, a 14-play second-quarter drive that ended in a touchdown. He was also used twice as a sixth offensive lineman, lining up outside right tackle Wallace.
  • The Three Tight End Set Rises: Offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich called in 16 plays with all three tight ends Strange, Johnson, and Warren on the field. Two of them included an extra lineman (Effner) and saw Warren line up as the wildcat quarterback with Clifford out wide. Unlike the three tight end sets called six years ago by John Donovan, these were not just extra blockers. While Penn State's tight ends are adept at blocking, they also have pass-catching abilities that force defenses into binds. Yurcich likes to keep defenses uncomfortable by mixing up personnel groups, tempo, and formations, and this is a tool he used well against the Tigers.

Defense (80 plays)

Pos. First Team Second Team Third Team
DE Arnold Ebikete (71)     
DT PJ Mustipher (60) Coziah Izzard (4)  
DT Derrick Tangelo (42) Dvon Ellies (41)  
DE Jesse Luketa (56) Nick Tarburton (33)  
WLB Brandon Smith (74) Charlie Katshir (6)  
MLB Ellis Brooks (80)    
SLB Curtis Jacobs (52)    
CB Tariq Castro-Fields (72) Daequan Hardy (28)  
S Jaquan Brisker (80)    
S Ji'Ayir Brown (63) Jonathan Sutherland (30)  
CB Joey Porter Jr. (73) Kalen King (15)  
  • Surprisingly Tight Rotations on Defensive Line: Despite 80 plays on defense and some very lengthy drives by Auburn, Penn State went with some of the tightest defensive line rotations we have seen under Brent Pry. It helps to have workhorses: Ebikete played 71 snaps, while Mustipher had 60. Aside from a brief four snap appearance by Izzard during Auburn's 15 play drive in the third quarter, only one reserve player was used at either defensive end or defensive tackle in this one.
  • Luketa Gets Start at DE, Does Not Play Linebacker: Luketa started ahead of Tarburton at end for the first time. And with Brooks playing every down in this game, Luketa did not need to move back to linebacker at all, playing his first full game as a defensive end.
  • Continued Trust in Kalen King: The true freshman is seeing key snaps and has solidified himself as the third outside corner. While Hardy sees more of the field due to his role on passing downs, King has held his own in spelling Castro-Fields and Porter.
  • Still No Ellis or Beamon: Defensive back Keaton Ellis was in uniform for the first time this season after missing two games with reported disciplinary issues but only played special teams. Defensive lineman Hakeem Beamon remained out of uniform. It will be interesting to see how both players are used, as they are reportedly both cross-trained along with respective position groups.
  • A Very Consistent Dime Package: Penn State basically plays the same exact 11 players any time they go to their dime package on third-and-long situations. Ellies plays nose tackle, flanked by Ebikete and Luketa, who sometimes line up standing up. Smith and Brooks man the linebacker spots. They go with three corners and three safeties, bringing in slot corner Hardy to join outside corners Castro-Fields and Porter, and third safety Sutherland to join starters Brisker and Brown. The only variations seem to be that Katshir or King will remain in the game if they were spelling the starter at their respective positions. That rule is not generally followed for the three-down linemen, however.
  • Brisker Fully Healthy: He was injured multiple times against Wisconsin, and seemed to be sheltered against Ball State as a result. But Brisker played every down on defense in this one and looked no worse for wear at the end of the game. He appears to be back to full strength, which is great news.
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