Penn State rewind: Nittany Lions taking their shots off wheel routes

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about 23 hours ago

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State wanted to be more aggressive in the win against Indiana and for the most part they were.

Yes, the weather was significantly better than three of the four previous home games, but Penn State also trusted Christian Hackenberg to air it out and was prepared to live with the consequences. There weren’t many that No. 14 made them live with.

Dropped passes are still an issue as are sacks and with a game with top-ranked Ohio State this week Penn State needs to continue cleaning up both of those areas. Pass protection will be huge and while Penn State preached ball security all last week and running back Mark Allen is likely their best protector, Allen coughed up a fumble against Indiana, the first by a PSU running back this season.

Allen, who coaches and players say is never at a loss for words, was quickly yanked on the sideline by RB coach Charles Huff. The 5-foot-6 Allen later returned to the field. 

Again, there’s still a lot to clean up with the offense. But, there were more positives with this group than in previous weeks and let’s look back at some of them:

Wheeling and dealing

The speed sweeps create pause for the defense, James Franklin said and while freshman Brandon Polk has been the recipient of most of these sweeps, Polk’s role in the offense is expanding. 

“The guy can flat out run,” Franklin said. “The more things he gets confident with we can expand his role and become less predictable.”

Polk’s 39-yard touchdown off a wheel route was set up by the fake sweep and as the speedy freshman made his way back across the field to head out for the pass the defender make one wrong --and big-- step inside, allowing Polk to fly by him. It was just Polk’s second catch of the season and his first receiving touchdown of his career. As is important with any deep ball give a nod to the guys up front who gave Hackenberg plenty of time to step up and deliver. 

So, when Polk is in there could be a jet sweep, a fake jet sweep to a handoff or a pass, or now a fake sweep to a wheel route. Penn State is getting a little more creative here while continuing to work Polk in and utilize his speed. 

Working the ball deep to DaeSean Hamilton

Hackenberg wasn’t sharp on Penn State’s first two possessions, but then found Polk and started to settle in. Of course drops didn’t help Hack’s cause, but there were some (not all, but some) balls that he could’ve delivered a little better to make it a little easier on his targets.

This one to DaeSean Hamilton on Penn State’s first drive of the second quarter isn’t an automatic catch. Hamilton has separation as he comes back to the ball but can’t hold on as he’s falling to the ground. Tough catch to make, but one that Hamilton is capable of making. 

Mark Allen rebounded from his first-quarter fumble to reel off a 28-yard rush that started this second-quarter drive. Hackenberg hit receiver Chris Godwin on the next play for a pick up of 14 and after Allen lost one yard the Lions took a shot on 2nd and 11 from the Hoosiers’ 39 yard line.

“It was designed to do a little fake to Brandon Polk and him just wheel up the sideline and I run a post,” Hamilton said after the game. “I just went inside, ran my route to win and as soon as I beat the guy off the line I kind of knew that I’d probably be getting the ball because there’s a bit of man coverage and the safeties were sitting low. As soon as I stuck my post over the top I looked up and Hack threw a great ball for me to run under.”

Polk was open underneath too for what likely would’ve been a short gain.

Joey Julius missed the extra point, the first of two he missed before being replaced by fellow walk-on Tyler Davis.

Keeping this one himself

As mentioned above dropped passes are an issue. So, who can blame Hackenberg for keeping this one for himself when he had a clean path to the end zone? Yes, tight end Kyle Carter was wide open in front of him, but no need to complicate things no matter how much confidence he has in his teammates.

"Kyle was expecting me to throw it because that's what I usually do," Hackenberg said. "But it's a safer play, just make sure you get the ball in there."

What'd Carter, who looked frustrated at first, have to say after the game?

"We scored a touchdown so no matter what that's what it's all about," Carter said.

But he didn't look too happy at first.

"We scored a touchdown. We won the game. 7 points is 7 points," Carter added.

Except in this case it only ended up being six because of the Julius miss on the extra point.

Not all celebrations are created equal 

After Hackenberg’s first rushing touchdown the celebration with Nick Scott and tight end Mike Gesicki probably won’t make the highlight reel.

“I ran after him,” running back Nick Scott said. “He was so amped I don’t think we even made eye contact. I was trying to give him a chest bump and everything like that but yeah, he looked pretty goofy when he fell over [laughs]. I don’t know what was going on with him.” 

“I wasn't ready for it," Hackenberg said with a laugh. ”I was kind of out of breath. I didn't know what he was doing.“

After Hackenberg’s second rushing touchdown he barked at the opponent at his feet after diving in for the score. Surely it was a much safer option than the chest bump gone wrong. 


Audrey Snyder: and Twitter @audsnyder4.

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What are they saying? Penn State players on the win vs. Indiana

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2 days ago

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State beat Indiana, 29-7 and as the Lions prep for a game in Columbus next Saturday against Ohio State here’s what players had to say after the win against the Hoosiers.

RB Nick Scott


QB Christian Hackenberg


WR DaeSean Hamilton


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Upon further review: Examining Penn State’s 29-7 win vs. Indiana

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2 days ago

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State’s offense looked more creative than they have at any point this season during the Lions’ 29-7 win against Indiana. Like any game it wasn’t — and will never be— perfect, but Penn State was much more aggressive on offense, taking deep shots down the field from the get go. 

Christian Hackenberg completed 21-of-39 passes for 262 yards and was able to hang in and deliver despite taking four sacks. The Lions’ pass catchers had some drops early on that killed momentum and hurt Hackenberg’s numbers, but what No. 14 did with his feet helped the offense’s cause too. Hackenberg finished with a 5 yard and a 1-yard rushing touchdown and also had a career long 22-yard scamper. 

“I love watching him run,” receiver DaeSean Hamilton said. “He has a little bit of juice in him so he’s fast too. When those zone plays aren’t going so well or when the pocket starts to break down and he takes off, it’s really nice to see.” 

Redshirt freshman running back Nick Scott, who got the start with Akeel Lynch and Saquon Barkley missing their second consecutive game due to injury, said Hackenberg came back to the huddle breathing heavily after the 22-yard run. 

“I said to him, ‘You didn’t get 22 carries, it was just 22 yards,” Scott said. 

Hackenberg’s celebration after the bootleg touchdown didn’t look too smooth however as tight end Mike Gesicki caught his QB off guard and he jumped up and went to celebrate with him. Hack fell to the ground.  

“I wasn’t ready for it,” Hackenberg said with a laugh. “I was kind of out of breath. I didn’t know what he was doing.” 

Rough go for Big Toe

Kicker Joey “Big Toe” Julius missed two extra points and booted a kick out of bounds in the first quarter. Tyler Davis came on to hit a 30-yard field goal in the fourth quarter and it looks like the close kicking competition everyone heard about it camp is far from over after Julius’ struggles Saturday. 

“We missed two extra points, you put the next guy in,” Franklin said. 

Neither of Penn State’s kickers are on scholarship and with scholarship specialist Quinn Nordin verbally pledged to Penn State both kickers this season have one shot to prove that they can be reliable options long term. Franklin stressed consistency with his punters and kickers and Saturday was by far Julius’ worst performance of the season. The staff will keep a close eye on both kickers in practice this week and see who is the best option heading into next week’s game at Columbus. 

In addition to Julius’ struggles Penn State also failed to recover an onside kick the Hoosiers’ caught them off guard with in the first half. Punter Chris Gulla wasn’t dressed for the game and Daniel Pasquariello, who was replaced by Gulla earlier this season, came back on.

Andrew Nelson returns to the field

Penn State’s offensive line received a boost from a healthy Andrew Nelson who saw his first game action since the end of the first half against Buffalo on Sept. 12. Nelson started at right tackle while Paris Palmer remained at left tackle. Brendan Mahon moved back from right tackle to left guard, his more natural position and Derek Dowrey came in to spell him.  

“There’s always room for improvement,” Nelson said. “I felt maybe a little rusty, but for the most part not too bad.” 

WR Brandon Polk’s role expanding

He’s been running the jet sweep since he was nine and freshman receiver Brandon Polk has been called upon to do the same thing this season too. James Franklin said as the season continued they would expand Polk’s role within the offense as he continues becoming more comfortable and growing and this week he was a vertical passing threat too. 

Polk hauled in a 39-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter to put Penn State on the board. He became Penn State’s first receiver since Derrick Williams did so in 2008 to record a rushing and a receiving touchdown in the same season. 

“I do think the speed sweeps as well as the fake sweeps and the handoffs give something to the defense, pause.” Franklin said. “He’s got such speed and he’s so sudden with his movements that if you’re not sound, he is going to get on the edge of you. … His package, a long as he knows what he’s doing and is confident with his assignments, can continue to grow.”

Does James Franklin work out?

James Franklin runs up and down the sideline, but beyond that he said he usually doesn’t have time to work out. He was asked about this during his post-game news conference.  

“I actually look decent, but when I take my shirt off it’s somewhat disgusting,” Franklin said. “I’m a skinny fat guy and I need to do something. The staff tries tot get on the treadmill or do something, but every time I say I’m going to do it something comes up. I need to get some exercise, but I appreciate you saying that.”

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Indiana vs. Penn State prediction, what to look for and more

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 3 days ago

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Penn State coaches and players spent time this week answering questions about finding an identity on offense. Five games in and the jury is still out on deep receiving corps we all heard and wrote so much about, the improvements up front and the need for more creative play calling. 

Here’s a sampling of what was asked this week:

Has the playbook been scaled back because of the offense’s struggles?

James Franklin said no, but added that they’re not as creative as they’d like to be each week.

How has QB Christian Hackenberg progressed since last season? 

QB coach Ricky Rahne said Hackenberg is checking the team into run plays and doing a better job taking care of the football.

Does Hackenberg even fit in this offense? 

Rahne said this notion is a bit “over blown” that No. 14 and his big arm are indeed a fit.

Will RB Saquon Barkley play? 

Franklin said it’ll depend how the freshman feels Friday, but conceded that if Barkley does play he won’t be 100 percent.

Will the offense always look this well, um, you know…. ugly? 

Franklin laughed and said he wants the offense to be “sexier” too but that it will take time. Right now though he’ll taking winning ugly, he said.

For now, this offense is what it is. How much it improves the rest of the season will determine just how far this team can go. Right now, ranked 116th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total offense, the unit seemingly can only go up.

The pick: Penn State 27, Indiana 20

RB Jordan Howard and QB Nate Sudfeld are game-time decisions for Indiana. Penn State RB Saquon Barkley is on the fence too. The availability of center Angelo Mangiro and offensive tackle Andrew Nelson is unclear as well. This one is a difficult pick because of all the injuries, but Penn State’s defense will keep the Lions in it.

Don’t be surprised if… Penn State turns the ball over once or twice. Franklin highlighted the team’s improved ball security all week (which the last time we all heard so much about something it was the special teams before it went out and struggled a few weeks ago). While the Lions are doing really well here and are +8 in the turnover margin, the Hoosiers are +9.

Between Barkley (if he plays) and a trio of redshirt freshmen running backs at some point there’s likely to be that rookie, or in this case freshman, mistake. Penn State is playing a lot of freshmen and while at this point in the season Franklin said it’s time for everybody to take the next step, in a game like this one team will find a way to create a turnover or two.

Army coughed the ball up seven times last week and while that won’t be the case with Indiana, just one turnover could swing this game.

Keep an eye on… Safety Troy Apke’s reps. Franklin said the sophomore played every rep on defense and special teams a week ago. While starting safety Marcus Allen’s availability is up in the air, Penn State is thin here. Penn State hasn’t burned freshman Ayron Monroe’s redshirt (and at this point unless another injury would pop up at safety they likely wouldn’t) so how does Apke hold up if he’s called upon to play the entire game again?

Worth mentioning that… Indiana has never won in Beaver Stadium. Penn State leads the all-time series 17-1.

Miss any of the Post-Gazette’s Penn State coverage during the week? Get caught up here:

- CB Grant Haley making a name for himself at his mother’s alma mater  

- Is QB Christian Hackenberg the right fit for this offense?

Penn State vs. Indiana broadcast moved to ESPN

-Penn State practice notes: RB Saquon Barkley takes reps, Franklin says 

- DT Anthony Zettel plans to honor late father by continuing to play on

-Scout-team standouts: Who is giving Penn State the best practice looks? 

-James Franklin understands Penn State’s struggles on offense 

-TE Mike Gesicki looks to continue bouncing back after early season struggles

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Is QB Christian Hackenberg the right fit for this offense?

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 5 days ago

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne talked with reporters on a conference call Thursday, the first time he’s been made available to the media since the team’s media day Aug. 6. 

Penn State’s offense, ranked 116th in the Football Bowl Subdivision, hasn’t struck a balance with the run game and the passing attack and through five games James Franklin said his team is still searching for its identity. What’s one of the team’s top priorities right now?

“Getting good at something and creating an identity,” Franklin said Wednesday after practice, adding that the rest -- which includes more creativity within the offense-- will come with time.

One would think part of Penn State’s offense getting going would come down to QB Christian Hackenberg doing the same. Franklin said Tuesday Penn State is calling the game in a style in which it can eliminate mistakes, but added that the teams needs to be more aggressive with taking shots down the field. Hackenberg, a projected first-round NFL Draft pick, passed for 200-plus yards just once through the first five games. That big arm that helped Hackenberg get this far hasn’t equated to Penn State taking many deep shots – whether because of pressure when he’s in the pocket, a lack of separation from the receivers, dropped passes or otherwise.

What’s Hackenberg done better this year compared to last?

“[He’s] making some great checks in the run game that have really helped us run the ball better in terms of getting us into good plays,” Rahne said. “The other thing I think he’s done very well is I think he’s taken care of the football.”

So, with more mobile quarterbacks in the pipeline like redshirt freshman Trace McSorley and freshman Tommy Stevens is Hackenberg, -- the 6-foot-4, 228-pound junior with the big arm and the high football IQ – the right fit for this offense where short, underneath passes thus far have been a big part?

"I would say that our offense is a multiple offense and there's lot of different types of quarterbacks that can be successful," Rahne said. "There's been multiple types of guys, sizes, that have succeeded in this offense. I would say Christian's skillset fits it well. It's about accuracy, and intelligence, and pre- and post- snap decision making, and being athletic enough to make plays with your feet.

"I think Christian's skillsets fit a variety of offenses. He has a big arm, but he's still athletic, he's a very intelligent kid, and I think that [criticism] is a bit overblown."

Hackenberg’s completed just 52 percent of his passes thus far and improved footwork, specifically with this quick passing game, has been a focal point for him since Franklin and staff arrived in January of 2014. Rahne said Hackenberg has been better throwing the ball on the run, another point of emphasis as the team focused on moving the pocket because of some of the struggles up front.

“In general, I’ve actually seen an increase in his accuracy and things like that especially with the weather factors and things of that nature over the last few weeks,” Rahne said. “Just excited to get out there this weekend because I like the way he’s practiced this week.”

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