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Penn State Showcases ‘Tight End U’ Identity In Win Over Auburn

James Franklin said in the preseason that Penn State football’s tight end group is the best he’s even been around in 25 years as a college football coach. He might be right.

A gritty crew of Brenton Strange, Theo Johnson, and Tyler Warren led the way in the Nittany Lions’ offensive attack against Auburn Saturday night — both in the rushing and passing game. The three combined for 130 receiving yards and two touchdowns in Penn State’s electric win over Auburn.

“I don’t want that to be a one week on, one week off. I think we’ve got a really talented tight end room,” Franklin said after the game. “We want to keep them involved…that’s a room that we believe in and think is super talented.”

In years past, Penn State has typically featured just one tight end in its offense. Pat Freiermuth was the “guy” before this year and Mike Gesicki had the reigns before him. Now, Brenton Strange is “TE1,” but the rest of the room isn’t far behind him.

The Nittany Lions have taken pride in spreading the ball around so far this season. Seven guys caught the ball against Auburn and 10 caught passes in just the first half against Ball State. It can be a struggle to balance the offense when you have such talented playmakers across multiple position groups, but Penn State has put the pieces together nicely so far.

It’s no secret that Jahan Dotson is Penn State’s go-to weapon on offense, but getting the ball to tight ends and even running backs in the passing game has opened lots of doors for the Nittany Lions. Quarterback Sean Clifford said having that type of depth has been crucial so far.

“We’ve got three extremely talented tight ends. Every single one of them I have a ton of confidence in,” Clifford said after the game. “It was awesome to get them all involved in different ways…we have a lot of stuff with those guys and it makes it fun when you can just bounce things from personnel to personnel.”

The way Penn State’s tight ends got involved in all facets of the game jumped off the page Saturday night. Most notably, former quarterback Tyler Warren lined up in the wildcat and vaulted his way in for a score.

Penn State’s offensive players said this is a package they’ve been working on all offseason and that they have more to reveal in similar formations. There’s no better time to unveil this type of play than a prime-time White Out, right?

On the same play, you’ll also see Strange line up in a spot that *really* makes him look like a fullback. The Nittany Lions’ tight ends were using that formation all night to bring an extra blocker into the rushing attack. This, combined with three-tight end sets, is quickly becoming an offensive staple for Penn State.

Offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich has used this “fullback” role in the past, but Warren said it specifically jumped out on Auburn’s tape.

“It really just depends on what the looks are that week,” Warren said after the game. “This week we thought it was something that would work and it ended up working for us.”

While the untraditional roles of Penn State’s tight ends really stuck out, the crew got things done in the good ol’ fashioned passing game, too. Johnson and Strange both had huge gains on seam routes that were set up by offensive tempo. These types of explosive players are huge for momentum in front of a home crowd.

Tempo is another part of Yurcich’s game planning that is becoming part of Penn State’s identity. This was especially obvious on plays where Auburn’s defenders were out of position or late coming over, but it bleeds into all facets of the offensive scheme.

“[Tempo] helps a lot. It keeps the defense on their heels and we take advantage of that,” Strange said. “Defenses don’t like to run all game.”

Perhaps this offensive tempo has helped Penn State’s defense improve through practice as well. The team likes to use the phrase “iron sharpens iron,” which can certainly be true when two talented units are facing off against each other every day.

Safety and team captain Jaquan Brisker has seen this tight end group up close and personal at practice. Penn State’s defense is undoubtedly good this year and it’s quite possible it’s made the offense better as a result. There’s lots of buzz about these tight ends, and at this point, it’s been well-deserved.

“[Practice] is very competitive. That’s a great group and they work very hard on and off the field,” Brisker said Saturday night. “I love watching those guys play, that’s my favorite. That’s ‘Tight End U’ right there.”

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About the Author

Ryan Parsons

Ryan is a redshirt senior majoring in business and journalism from "Philadelphia" and mostly writes about football nowadays. You can follow him on Twitter @rjparsons9 or say hi via email at [email protected]

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