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‘We Just Kept Chipping Away At Them’: Penn State Football Finding Offensive Groove

Penn State football’s offense is a well-oiled machine. It’s not a sleek and flashy Lamborghini, but rather a Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry. The offense isn’t the type to “wow” anyone with big, explosive plays, but instead, one that consistently wears opponents down over time by making short-gain plays.

It’s damn good at doing so. In fact, the Nittany Lions have scored at least 30 points for 11 consecutive games heading into Saturday’s clash at Northwestern, a streak that dates back to the 45-17 win over Minnesota in last season’s White Out.

Penn State’s ideal strategy isn’t necessarily throwing for a million yards a game or rushing for 30-yard touchdowns on every drive, despite having players who are capable of doing so. Instead, offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich’s group holds onto the ball by frequently running short-gain plays. This is evident as Penn State is first in the nation in time of possession but 49th with 5.45 yards per play.

The strategy has worked: Penn State exhausts defenses with long, time-wasting drives that wear on its opponents. Drew Allar has demonstrated superb accuracy at times, and trying to tackle Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen is so daunting that even some of their teammates aren’t sure which one they’d rather face in practice. When those short-gain plays repeatedly prove to be difficult to stop, opponents’ defense’s frustrations grow as they realize the difficulties of getting off the field.

However, another big reason the coaching staff has been running the offense by using a slow, stretched-out style is that it’s effective against the teams they’re playing, and Iowa is an example.

“I will tell you this: in the locker room at halftime, that was a point I made to the [offensive coaches] — do not get bored,” James Franklin said at a media availability Tuesday. “Do not get bored with grinding this game out because it is working for us in a style that is going to allow us to beat this Iowa football team.”

Penn State had more yards per carry in the second half than it did in the first. The Nittany Lions were only up 10-0 at the end of the first half, but the style of play slowly exhausted the Hawkeyes’ defense. By the end of the third quarter, the blue and white led 24-0, and the game only got more out of hand.

“We just kept chipping away at them,” Franklin said.

“If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” is the perfect saying for Penn State right now. Perhaps it isn’t visually appealing at times to watch the Nittany Lions run the same types of plays over and over again. However, it’s important to appreciate the fact that it can do this without teams stopping it because it shows two things: that the offense is talented and it’s finding its identity.

The identity aspect is crucial with a first-year starting quarterback, two sophomore running backs, and a wide receiver room that is comprised of several young and unproven players. Allar frequently tends to spread the ball around, so slowing the game down is important for everyone’s development as opposed to making deep, play-action throws tens of yards down the field. However, Franklin did stress a desire to be more versatile offensively.

“I think we need to be able to show that we can grind it out to win, which we have, but I also think we need to show that we can be explosive to win, as well,” Franklin said. “We’ve done that at times but probably not as much as we’ve ground it out, but I would also say that also plays a little bit to how people were playing us.”

This will come with time as the young core continues developing. Take it one step at a time by making sure everyone is comfortable with the short-gain plays, then open up the playbook when the time is right.

Again, don’t change what’s working. Currently, Penn State’s offense is doing the right thing by executing plays that chip away at opponents, as they eventually wear them down to a point where Penn State seizes control of the game by the middle of the second half. It’s an effective strategy and the perfect building block for this young Penn State team.

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About the Author

Nolan Wick

Nolan is a third-year journalism major from Silver Spring, Maryland, which means he's an avid fan of all D.C. sports teams. If Nolan isn't writing about or watching sports, you can probably find him listening to all sorts of music or traveling. To keep up with Nolan, you can follow him on Twitter @nolan_wick or email him at [email protected].

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