Second Trimester Report: PSU football assessment before the November gauntlet
At the 2/3rds checkpoint of the season, we check in on the Lions
RFBS is not that mathematically challenged: PSU is 75% of the way through its season, not 66.7% as the headline suggests.
But this season naturally divides into three slightly uneven sections:
(1) the four-game non-conference schedule
(2) the first five Big Ten games, all in October, and
(3) the riveting finishing kick in November (following a bye), against Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin.
Isolating that second trimester, those five games - all played in the Big Ten, all wins, all squeakers, all detrimental to the blood pressure of PSU fans, all defense, no passing - yields some confounding, contrasting, mystifying, verifying, etc., factoids about 8-1 Penn State, and about some of the individual standouts for the Lions this season.
(All stats/rankings for Big Ten games only unless otherwise noted):
AMAZING: PSU is the first team in the ancient history of the Big Ten to win five straight league games all by 10 points or less. They have a decent chance to make it six in two weeks (after the bye) vs. Nebraska.
CONFOUNDING: PSU's putrid offense is tied for best in the Big Ten in 4th-down conversions at 80% (4-of-5). In other words, without that misguided QB sneak vs. Illinois, Penn State would be alone as the best team in the Big Ten in 4th-down conversion rate at 100%.
OVERPOWERING: Three Lions are in the Top 8 in tackles for loss in Big Ten games - Devon Still (10), Gerald Hodges (7.5) and Jordan Hill (6).
OVERPOWERING, II: Four Lions are in the Top 8 in sacks in Big Ten games - Hodges (3.5), Still (3), Sean Stanley (3) and Hill (3).
CONFIRMATION: In its five Big Ten games, PSU has played two of the three worst scoring defenses in the league, Northwestern and Indiana. Yet the Lions still rank second-to-last in scoring with 19.6 points per game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: How vital is the kicking game? Penn State has punted the ball into the end zone more than twice as many times as the next worst team (seven for PSU, three for the next worst) in Big Ten games. Also, PSU has 11 FGs in Big Ten games, with only Nebraska having half as many (6), and everyone else having five or fewer.
TELLTALE: The PSU D has allowed three rushing TDs in Big Ten play which is best in the league, and the 121 yards rushing per game allowed is second-best.
SUPERLATIVE: PSU's nine interceptions in Big Ten games ranks first, and their 14 interceptions overall are sixth nationally.
AWESOME: The past two games, Hodges has amassed 33 tackles and 2.5 sacks to earn back-to-back Big Ten defensive player of the week honors. Since the loss of star LB Michael Mauti for the season to a knee injury in the fourth game, Hodges, a junior, has emerged as an All-Big Ten linebacker.
MR. OCTOBER: PSU squeezed in the maximum five games in October, and RB Silas Redd took advantage, leading the nation in total rushing yards for the month with 703. However, Redd was second in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game last month with 140.6, behind Iowa's Marcus Coker (147.2), who played one fewer game. Overall Redd is sixth nationally with 1,006 rushing yards. It's the 21st time a PSU player has rushed for more than 1,000 in a season.
INTERESTING: PSU QBs have been sacked only seven times in five league games, the third-best sack rate in the Big Ten. Which means that at least one aspect of the passing game - pass protection - hasn't been a disaster.
*HMMMM: PSU's opponents have committed fewer penalties (4.3 per game) for fewer yards (37.1 per) than any other Big Ten team's opponents. In other words, whiny Illinois conspiracy theories about the officiating hold no water, because PSU foes are getting flagged at the lowest rate among conference teams. *this stat is for all games played, not just Big Ten games.
HMMMM, II: Michigan, by far, is the recipient of the most penalty yards by its opponent among Big Ten teams. In league games, Michigan's opponents have committed 83.8 penalty yards per game
MYSTERIOUS: The sensational PSU defense is only tied for 9th in the Big Ten in red zone defense at 84.6% in league games.
MYSTERY SOLVED: Of course, red zone defense is a highly flawed statistic. A better stat is Ultimate Red Zone Percentage, RFBS's proprietary red zone data (see the RFBS blog post "Reinventing the Red Zone Metric" on 10.11.11 for an explanation). The URZP for PSU is 67.0%, which leapfrogs the Lions all the way up to a more-appropriate 5th in the league in red zone performance.
LINEBACKER U: LB Nate Stupar is tied for first in Big Ten games with two fumble recoveries, and LB Gerald Hodges is tied for second in forced fumbles with two. Stupar and safety Nick Sukay (an honorary LB) are tied for second in Big Ten play with two interceptions.
IMPRESSIVE: Four PSUers are among the Top 12 in passes defensed in Big Ten play - Sukay with five, and Adrian Amos, Hodges and Stupar with four apiece.
MORE IMPRESSIVE: PSU's pass efficiency defense rating of 97.8 is No. 1 in the Big Ten.
UNIMPRESSED: The voters and computers. The only BCS school with one loss that is ranked lower than 8-1, No. 16 PSU in the BCS standings is unranked, 6-1 Cincinnati, from the on-life support Big East conference.