Joe Moore Award Big Ugly Spotlight Game Review – Week 5: Iowa vs Penn State
Kinnick Stadium presents challenges for any opponent coming into Iowa City, however the atmosphere heightens when it’s a night game for the Iowa Hawkeyes. A Turn It Up and Rip The Knob Off type of atmosphere for the Black and Yellow, as they welcomed the Penn State Nittany Lions in Week 5.
Iowa, is well known (and criticized) for their offensive philosophy under Kirk Ferentz. They play a Pro-Style, mostly under-center offense, utilizing fullbacks, tight ends, and a lot of motions and shifts to manipulate the defensive front into advantageous positions. The team is often guided by the strength of its offensive line – if the line is good, Iowa is good (see 2015). If the line isn’t as good, Iowa is very average (see 2016) due to their historical lack of playmakers at the skill positions. The Hawkeyes employ a gap/man blocking scheme in the run game, and employ a lot of traditional half-line 6 man protections in the pass game. The unit is led this season by center James Daniels and right guard Sean Welsh, and the latter is being seen as an NFL prospect.
Penn State, under the guise of James Franklin, run a spread offense which prioritizes getting their athletes in space. Penn State uses a lot of 11 personnel with the tight end flexed out in the slot, essentially making it 10 personnel. The Nittany Lions use a lot of pin and pull schemes with their tackles and guards to get the guards out into the field side with a lot of space for their back, Saquon Barkley, to make the lineman right. PSU also uses a good amount of inside zone read, in order to capitalize on their quarterback’s athleticism. They’re pretty vanilla in pass protection, as they often only have five offensive linemen in to protect. Full line slide protections with the back either cutting the edge defender or going out on a pass route.
The last play of the 3rd quarter was a big play for the Hawkeyes. Given an untimed down due to a pass interference penalty on the prior play as time ran out, Iowa had yet to get their workhorse RB Akrum Wadley going. On a draw play, Wadley gets the ball, and starts to his right. The offensive line does a great job of selling pass protection to get the defensive line up field. The center does a phenomenal job of letting the defensive tackle go where he wants to go, and uses the defender’s own momentum against him. The left guard should also get credit for this run by getting a big block on the second level to spring Wadley.
The Nittany Lions do a nice job here of getting horizontal movement on the LOS on this 4th and 1 situation. The common preconception is that the line needs to move the defensive line backwards, however, horizontal movement can make it easier for the running back to see and read. The left tackle, and both tight ends on the left side in particular get huge blocks on the edge, and allow Saquon Barkley to convert the first down.
The Hawkeyes catch the Nittany Lion defense, in particular their linebackers, out of position here, and make them pay with a touchdown. The left tackle does a nice job of pinning the end outside, giving Wadley a huge running lane. The left guard does a good job of coming down on the defensive 1 technique, and sealing the inside. The biggest play on this run might actually be by the center, who initially screws up. He looks too far inside, and at the very last second is able to adjust and get a piece of the Penn State linebacker, just enough to get him a step behind Wadley to the outside, and springing the touchdown run.
The last play of the game broke the hearts of the Hawkeyes, as after coming all the way back against a top team in the country, they just couldn’t keep the Nittany Lions out of the end zone. While Trace McSorley still exhibited some poor mechanics, he’s particularly poor mechanically (while still effective) when under pressure. As an offensive line coach, you can’t ask for much better protection from your offensive line on this play. McSorley is given a ton of space and plenty of time on this play, and delivers the game winner as time expired to beat the Hawkeyes.
What was mostly an ugly game in the first half with both defensive fronts gaining the upper hand, the offensive lines both got better as the game went along, and allowed the talented skill position players on both teams to show why they’re held in that regard. In a typical Big Ten slugfest, the offensive lines didn’t disappoint. We’ll be hearing more from these groups as the year progresses.