Freshman Wideout Brandon Polk’s Unique Role In Penn State’s Offense
At 5-foot-9, 170 pounds, Brandon Polk has typically been the smallest player on the field throughout his young football career. Despite his miniscule stature, Polk’s been able to make a significant impact on Penn State’s potent offense — making his physical attributes nothing but an afterthought.
Polk’s role in John Donovan’s offensive system is unique, quite unlike any role a wide receiver might typically play. He lines up primarily in the slot, typically flanked by DaeSean Hamilton, Geno Lewis, or Chris Godwin on the outside. It’s not where he lines up that’s somewhat particular, but rather the manner in which his offensive coaching staff deploys him.
When Polk lines up, one of three things could follow: Polk takes off down the field on his assigned route, Polk motions across the backfield to simulate a jet sweep, or Polk motions and takes the handoff. The element of surprise that comes along with Polk’s presence gives Franklin a leg up when it comes to fooling defenses.
“We’ve noticed that defenses have had a specific plan when he’s on the field about how they’re going to handle it. A couple weeks ago it was to play cover two and not give up the big play when he’s in there,” Franklin said. “I think people are very aware when he’s in the game. It also creates a misdirection opportunities for our offense, where now they have to defend him on the edge, but also have to defend inside zone or power that the offense is trying to run. So it creates really good change of pace for us and some misdirection.”
Polk’s big-play potential is impossible to ignore, as the speedster has the ability to take it the distance every time he touches the ball. He flashed this potential in his first career game, racking up 50 yards on two carries against Temple, showing his innate prowess when it comes to maneuvering in the open field.
Unlike most receivers, Polk is equally as dangerous even when the ball isn’t in his hands. When Polk lines up in the slot, defenses key in on him. The man assigned to cover him typically shadows him as he moves, assuming the defense is in man coverage. If the defense is lined up in zone coverage, the defender will stay put, but the focus shifts to Polk and whether the ball will go to him or not. If Hackenberg fakes the sweep, the defense gets sucked in, subsequently opening a running lane for someone like Saquon Barkley to take advantage of. If Hackenberg hands the ball off, Polk switches gears and blazes around the corner, typically for a substantial pickup in yardage.
Like Franklin, Hackenberg notices the effect Polk can have, especially when used as a decoy. He further elaborated on Polk during Tuesday’s press conference.
“I think that’s something we obviously look at on film in terms of what we want to do with that, and how big of a role that wants to be in our game plan. Obviously it varies throughout the game,” Hackenberg said. “Defenses make adjustments to that, and we usually try to make our adjustments accordingly. He’s a changeup for our offense. We’ve been getting a lot of explosive plays out of that, and it’s been good for us.
What Percy Harvin did for Tim Tebow during his time as a Florida Gator, Polk is doing for Hackenberg, albeit to a lesser extent. Despite only being a freshman, Polk’s ability to draw such attention makes him a key cog in Penn State’s offensive system, and bodes well for him as he continues to grow and develop.
Brandon Polk’s career is just beginning, but already he’s shown the significant impact he can have on a game. Polk may be small, but height is nothing but a number for the young speedster. Keep an eye on No. 10 as he continues to find his groove and leave defenders in his tracks.