Penn State’s Awful Clock Management, Play Calling on Full Display at Michigan

Saturday’s performance was a disheartening display of baffling play call decisions, laughable time management, and offensive ineptitude. Heading into yet another bye week, the Nittany Lions have numerous issues to address, hoping to right this ship before it becomes too late.

Oh, and a disclaimer: The offensive line isn’t one of the headings here, because its problems are just obvious at this point.

Let’s talk about that timeout

Out of all the issues with Penn State right now, clock management is the most pressing. The Nittany Lions had only one timeout remaining with 1:43 to play, and that’s absolutely maddening. The fact that one timeout was wasted on ensuring that the team took a safety is even worse. With the Lions on their own two-yard line on fourth and long, they took a timeout with the play clock winding down, then purposefully botched the snap to allow themselves an onside kick. James Franklin stood by his decision after the game, saying, “We wanted to take a safety, so we took a timeout to make sure we could take a safety.” The timeout in question could have been saved to potentially prevent Michigan from running out the clock, rather than being wasted in this scenario. Better yet, why not just take a delay of game penalty and save yourself a whole timeout? It just didn’t make any sense at all.

Franklin losing his mind on offensive coordinator John Donovan was another example of the miscommunication issues facing this team. Donovan and Franklin were clearly not on the same page, as Donovan was not ready to go for it on fourth down, while Franklin was expecting the offense to remain on the field. It’s things like this that will continue to hold this team back.

That play calling

Penn State’s on-field performance was one thing, but the way the coaching staff executed the game plan was downright awful.

Donovan really did his best to drive fans to the brink of insanity with his confusing array of offensive playcalls. One specific call sums up the entire night. The situation was 3rd-and-10, and the drive had some life to it. The Nittany Lions were stuffed on first down, and again failed on second down. John Donovan opted for a draw play out of the shotgun, resulting in a two-yard gain.

It’s beyond explanation, especially considering Penn State rushed for 54 yards the whole game.

As for the wildcat, it is a package that hasn’t gotten any more effective in recent weeks, but will still be overused by the staff because of Franklin’s success with it at Vanderbilt and Penn State’s good players for the package on paper. But Penn State just isn’t gaining yards with it, and one wonders how long the coaching staff will stick with it.

This says it all, I suppose:

Hackenberg’s midseason slump

Christian Hackenberg arrived at Penn State last season as a hyped freshman phenom with a cannon arm and poise of a seasoned vet. Sure, he displayed a few freshman moments here and there, but overall established himself as one of the premier young passers in the country thanks to his stellar rookie campaign. This label still rings true for the most part, but as the season goes on, we are discovering that with all of the positives that come with Hackenberg’s play, there are some glaring issues beginning to surface. Hackenberg, who went 21-32 for 160 yards with a touchdown and an interception, made some impressive throws against the Wolverines, putting balls in tight windows and showing aggressiveness by testing the long ball. For the most part, however, he struggled while progressing through reads, and tried to make plays that simply weren’t there.

Hackenberg certainly isn’t being helped by the offensive scheme, which lacks high percentage route packages that would greatly benefit a pro-style passer like himself. Too often, Hackenberg is seen launching the ball deep, rather than keeping the chains moving by throwing slants or in routes. Penn State features a bevy of talented receivers who would greatly benefit from higher percentage throws.

While this is out of Hackenberg’s control, his inability to check down or find the second option certainly is. When he drops back, he never seems very comfortable, thanks to an offensive line that can’t stop a leak. When the pocket collapses, which happens way too often, Hackenberg isn’t the best on his feet. Instead of finding the second or third option and releasing the ball, he either takes the sack or tries to scramble around looking for room on the ground. This is a recipe for disaster, and is something that must be corrected soon. Hackenberg is a pocket passer, not a scrambler. If his Johnny Manziel-like antics continue, they could spell trouble for the Nittany Lion offense.

We thought the bye week after Northwestern couldn’t come at a better time. This one seems more needed.

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About the Author

David Abruzzese

David is a senior from Rochester, NY, nestled right in beautiful Western New York. He is majoring in Broadcast Journalism, and as an avid sports fan, he passionately supports the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres. He is the first Penn Stater from his family, and couldn’t be prouder to represent Penn State University. In his free time, he likes to alpine ski, and play golf. You can follow him on Twitter @abruz11, and can contact him via email at [email protected].

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