Friday, November 18, 2011

An Open Letter to the Penn State Play-Callers (posted 11.18.11)

An Open Letter (Plea?) to Penn State Play-Callers Jay Paterno and Galen Hall
Please give your players a chance to succeed, and win

Jay, you were here in 2001 so of course you remember. Perhaps you can share this with Galen, who was busy earning XFL coach of the year honors that season.

Early in that 2001 season, in the midst of Year 2 of the five-year Dark Era in Penn State football (2002 excepted), the Lions were playing terrible football.

After decades of excellence, PSU suddenly looked soft on defense and discombobulated on offense. The Lions started 0-4 in 2001. And three of the four losses were beat downs.

After one of the disastrous early 2001 games, an 18-6 home loss to a Wisconsin team that would finish 5-7, your father, Joe Paterno, declared the PSU offense had "played like a bunch of scared rabbits.''

Fast forward a decade to 2011: This season, the Penn State offensive play-calling has felt like the product of a bunch of scared rabbits.

The play-calling - the shared domain of you two - shows no confidence in the quarterback(s), who in turn play with even less confidence, and in turn cause the play-calling to have even less confidence ... and before you know it, it looks like PSU is playing 11-on-15, and all 15 defenders are either Darrelle Revis or Ray Lewis.

Fear and confidence. Call plays with confidence. It's the key to success.

The opposite is the key to failure. And Penn State ranks ahead of only putrid Minnesota in scoring in the Big Ten.

Against Illinois before the bye week, and last week for 2.5 quarters against Nebraska, PSU reached new lows. The offense was staggeringly inept. This despite the individual brilliance of RB Silas Redd (before apparently injuring his shoulder vs. Nebraska) and an improved offensive line.

Why? Play-calling. Specifically, no confidence play-calling.

Fortunately for Penn State, the inept offense still has been good enough to win 8 of 10 games because PSU has committed few turnovers and has a superlative defense.

But the Lions will lose at Ohio State on Saturday and at Wisconsin next week if the offensive mindset and play-calling approach doesn't change.

Change to what?
  • First and foremost, more play-action passes and more moving pockets.
  • Which means fewer straight dropbacks - QB Matt McGloin is too small and feeble-armed to regularly succeed on straight dropback passes. Work around McGloin's limitations.
  • More even distribution of passes to all four levels - behind the line, short, medium and long.
  • More aggressive and varied calls on 2nd-and-long. Routine running plays on 2nd-and-10 have become so routine that everyone knows they are coming. EVERYONE. How about play-action with short (FB), medium (TE) and long (WR) options?
  • More variety in the running game and running plays. Bring back barreling Curtis Dukes and again use Stephfon Green for a few carries each, to provide a change of pace and rest for the nicked-up Redd. More of FB Joe Suhey's pass catching and running, and FB Mike Zordich's blocking and short-yardage.
  • Utilize WRs Shawney Kersey and Curtis Drake more, in addition to big targets Derek Moye and Justin Brown.
  • Try two or three open-field plays a game for miniature blur Devon Smith (crossing routes, deep routes) - and no more.
  • Use at least one well-rehearsed, well-timed gadget play, such as the pass from Drake to McGloin against Nebraska, which led to a touchdown. Maybe a hook-and-lateral to Smith or Kersey. Maybe a RB pass to a TE. Time it right, execute it right, and it will succeed.
  • Perhaps runs a few plays with Drake, a high school QB, in the Wildcat formation. And if you run such plays at least three times, be sure to throw a pass at least once.
  • Lobs to Moye and Brown, play-action to TEs and runs up the middle in the red zone. Please.
  • We repeat: In the red zone, high passes to Moye and Brown, play-action to TEs (or FBs, or anyone), and runs between the tackles with a FB blocking. Please.
  • Screens only after the offense has had success in other areas. Defenses are sniffing them out.

Remember the rhythm, balance and energy the offense had after it fell behind 17-0 to Nebraska? That it had on the final drive vs. Illinois? That's the mindset that must be captured and maintained from the outset.

Why wait until you must score points to try to score points?

This isn't suggesting PSU get reckless, or not play relatively conservatively. An offense can incorporate all of the aforementioned suggestions and improve significantly while not appreciably improving its turnover rate.

It starts with the play-calling. Give the players a chance. Show them your confidence. Because the status quo will fail.

It's amazing what Penn State's play-callers have done for the offense when acting with confidence, when playing like poker pro raising pre-flop from the big blind.
  • In 2005, when they developed confidence in Michael Robinson, PSU was consistently good all season.
  • In 2008, with Darryl Clark at the helm, PSU was sensational almost all season.
Which came first, the confidence in Robinson, or Robinson's confidence? Clark's confidence, or confidence in Clark?

Words only do so much. Action resonates, and play-calling is the action of the offensive coaches.

Back to 2001 for a moment, to the awful 0-4 start, the offensive misery. (Not to mention the nation was reeling from the tragic events of 9/11.)

What happened? Penn State won five of its next six games. Why? Zack Mills took over full-time at QB, and the play-calling dramatically improved. It suddenly had confidence.

PSU had averaged 8 points in its first four games; it averaged 34 in its next six.

Jay and Galen, in the spirit of 2001, please give your players a chance.

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