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For Penn State Football, It’s Not Too Early to Think About Ohio State

by on September 13, 2018 8:30 PM

Not everyone inside Lasch Building has been thinking 100% about Kent State this week.

A few staffers were furiously working on next Friday night’s game at Illinois in Champaign.

And, likely, there’s even been some peeking ahead to the Sept. 29 WhiteOut when Ohio State comes to town.

Advance planning is key when the games come fast and furious. In 2018, the Nittany Lions will play 12 games in 84 days — and two in the six days from this Saturday against Kent State to next Friday night against the Illini.

How do they do it? The folks inside Lasch plan and work ahead. And sometimes, juggle two and even three upcoming games at a time.

While the core group of fulltime assistants focus mostly on the game straight in front of them, Penn State’s trio of fulltime quality control assistants (Sam Williams, Larry Lewis and Jeff Carpenter), four fulltime grad assistants and a host of undergraduate interns are thinking about going 2-0. And even 3-0.

Quality control assistants have proliferated in college football over the past few years and they’re on every staff these days. Alabama has a penchant for former head coaches as QC’s. Ballcoach Joe Moorhead has eight — count ‘em, eight — at Mississippi State. And at Ohio State, Urban Meyer keeps his QC’s all in the family.

In a nutshell, quality control coaches and consultants are not among the 10 permitted fulltime assistant coaches. And, as such, they are not allowed to do any coaching during practice or games, or perform any off-campus recruiting.

But they do a make a difference.

WHAT JAMES SAYS

Let’s have Penn State head coach James Franklin explain it, as he did when I asked him about his quality control assistants and advance game prep on Wednesday during his post-practice media scrum.

“Both the GA’s and the consultants will try to stay ahead” of the current game, Franklin said, “so that come Sunday the only thing we really need to do is to get that last game. Sometimes, if we’re playing a night game and our next opponent is playing a 12 o’clock game (that day), they may be able to get that done in the hotel in order to get a head start.

“They pretty much should have everything done, so all that we’re waiting for is to put that last data from that last opponent and get that in, so they can run all the reports and cut-ups and edits and things like that.”

Illinois plays South Florida at 3:30 p.m. at Soldier Field in Chicago this Saturday. By the time Franklin and his assistants walk into Lasch early on Sunday, the advance scouting and film work on Illinois will be ready for them.

Then for the quality control guys and the GA’s, it’s on to Ohio State.

And that doesn’t mean Franklin & Co. haven’t been prepping some ways and some times for the Buckeyes for a long time. I remember going in to see Bill O’Brien in his Penn State office (which was first Joe Paterno's and is now Franklin’s) on July 3 back in 2012. OB was watching film on his Lasch office wall of Navy — Penn State’s third opponent that fall — and he fully expected to have finished breaking down game No. 4 (Temple) shortly thereafter.

You can be sure Nittany Lion coordinators Brent Pry and Ricky Rahne dissected a decent amount of Ohio State tape over the summer. Ohio State plays No. 15 TCU at 8 p.m. this Saturday night at Jerry’s World (AT&T Stadium) in Dallas, then hosts lowly Tulane — 16-34 since 2014 — the week before visiting Happy Valley for the WhiteOut. That game will not show much about the Buckeyes. While it is Urban’s first game back on the sidelines in 2018, you can rest assured the bulk of Penn State’s advance scouting of Ohio State will be done in the days immediately after the TCU game.

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ROLLING WITH THE TIDE

Alabama, both past and present, has advanced advance scouting and quality control in powerful ways.

Under Bear Bryant, the legendary coach gave each assistant one team to focus on for the entire preseason and up to the game, for scouting reports, newspaper clippings and film work. This was before non-coaching staffs became bloated. It worked; under Bryant, the Tide won six national titles.

Now, under Nick Saban — who has won five national titles with the Tide — Alabama is the king of quality control assistants and consultants.

In the 2016 post-season, after Saban axed his offensive coordinator, Lane Kiffin, leading into the national championship game, he had Steve Sarkisian — a former head coach at Washington and USC, and a Tide QC guy that year — ready to step in. Saban had two other former head coaches at the ready, including Mike Locksley, as quality assistants that season. Locksley (who coached at Maryland with Franklin in 2000-02) moved into a fulltime slot at ’Bama in 2017 and in 2018, he is co-offensive coordinator with former PSU receivers coach Josh Gattis. Lockley’s slot in 2017 was taken by former Heisman winner Chris Weinke, who had been fired by the NFL Rams. After one season consulting with the Tide, Weinke is now the running backs coach at the University of Tennessee.

“You kind of have a lot of different models with the quality control guys,” Franklin said. “You have some people who have quality control guys who are NFL coaches and are out of work and still under contract. Or they are coordinators who are out of work and still under contract. Or…you have that guy who is done being a GA and isn’t quite ready to be a full-time coach, so that’s the next step.

“We kind of have a mix of that,” Franklin added. “We have Larry Lewis. who has coached at every level and has been a head coach and has been a coordinator. Obviously, what you’re relying on him for is experience and a sounding board.”

QUALITY AT PENN STATE

Penn State has three quality control/consultants this season:

— Larry Lewis, who has the title of football analyst and analytics coordinator. He was the head coach at Idaho State in 1999 when Franklin was the wide receiver coach there. They had coached together at Washington State in 1998. Lewis has been a college coach since 1981. Most recently, Lewis was the special teams coordinator and running backs coach at Virginia. At UVA in 2015, Lewis’ punt returns unit was ranked No. 6 in the country. Prior to that, he was special teams coach at Colorado State and Nevada, where Khald Wooten was once the nation’s No. 4 punt returner, at 15.1 yards per return.

— Sam Williams, whose official title is special teams/recruiting assistant for quality control, who came to Penn State in early 2015 and also worked with Franklin at Vanderbilt. He spent four seasons as the QB coach at Shepherd College in West Virginia.

Williams’ work and relationships with the Nittany Lions’ special teams players is strong, says punter and co-captain Blake Gillikin.

“Sam was a huge factor in my recruiting process and since I’ve been here,” Gillikin said this summer. “He’s been the constant guy who I’ve always been able to talk to. I’ve known Coach (Phil) Galiano for a year, so we’re going to have a seamless transition this season. Sam is my go-to guy. I can have a conversation with him about anything. He’s been great.”

— Jeff Carpenter, who is an offensive analyst, is back after spending his undergrad career at PSU. A 2015 Penn State grad, he spent four years as an offensive undergrad assistant for the Nittany Lions, breaking down film and handling data entry of personnel, formations, schemes and play concepts for upcoming opponents (see: Ohio State, Sept. 29).

Carpenter spent a year as an offensive intern with the Houston Texans, under O’Brien, then went to Princeton, where he was an offensive QC assistant. Princeton ran a two-quarterback offense at the time — its No. 2 QB was the Ivy League player of the year — and Carpenter interacted with Moorhead, who while at Fordham met on occasion with the Princeton staff to chalk talk offense. From there, Carpenter went to Bryant College in New England, following James Perry, who took over the head job at Bryant after being the OC at Princeton. (Perry’s brother John is the wide receiver coach for the NFL Houston Texans and — yes, you guessed it — works for O’Brien.)

Jim Haslett was the first such consultant at Penn State under Franklin. After being fired by the Washington Redskins after a five-year stint, Haslett spent the 2015 season as a consultant at Penn State. He’s now the linebackers coach at Cincinnati.

Phil Galiano, who is his first year as Penn State’s fulltime special teams coach, also helps coach the defensive line. Last season, he was a defensive consultant for Penn State. Prior to that, he coached at Rutgers and in the NFL with Tampa Bay and Miami, among other stops.

SCORING WITH ADVANCE SCOUTING

Advance scouting and game-planning and film analysis count. They have led to special teams scores against Ohio State over the past two seasons:

In 2016, Penn State QC folks discovered a flaw in Ohio State’s field goal protection, which led to Marcus Allen leaping between the pinched-down efforts of D-tackles Curtis Cothran and Robert Windsor. Which led to Allen’s blocked field goal, which led to Grant Haley’s winning scoop-and-score. Watch it here.

In 2017, Penn State QC folks found a big hitch in Ohio State’s kickoff coverage, which led to Saquon Barkley taking the opening kick at the 3-yard line, a few yards from the sideline, then quickly slicing across field untouched so that by the 40 he was on the opposite sideline — where the only Buckeye was a diving kicker, Sean Nuernberger — which led to a 97-yard touchdown, which led to a Penn State lead for all but the final 108 seconds of the game. Watch it here.

Those are prime examples of the power of advance scouting.

Makes you wonder what Penn State has up its sleeve for 2018, doesn't it?

More value-added: The continued presence of the same QC guys — or their return to familiar grounds — helps lessen the blow of departures from the fulltime coaching staff. That continuity is important. Lewis has known Franklin since their days at Washington State two decades ago, while Williams was at Vandy with CJF for a year before he was hired at Penn State by Franklin. Carpenter’s Penn State roots are among the deepest on the staff.

JOEMO AND URBAN

At Mississippi State, Moorhead plays a heavy hand at the QC/consultant game. As the Bulldogs’ head coach, he has a senior offensive consultant, two offense quality control assistants, three defensive quality control assistants, a senior special teams adviser and a special quality control assistants.

Will Reimann is one of those offensive quality assistants. At Penn State, Reimann was known as “Moneyball,” for his statistical acumen and analysis. Reimann has football roots that go back to Fordham and Moorhead. In the spring of 2017, Reimann came to Penn State as a QC assistant, supporting the Penn State offense and its coordinator.

And over this past winter, he followed Moorhead to Mississippi State. For a California native like Reimann, that’s some serious loyalty.

But nothing beats the ties of Meyers’ top quality control aide at Ohio State.

Corey Dennis is the Ohio State head coach’s senior quality control assistant for offense — with duties for game-planning, practice-planning and working with the quarterbacks and wide receivers.

Dennis met his wife Nicki at Georgia Tech, where he played football and she was a volleyball player. Nicki is Urban’s daughter.

Now that’s advance scouting.



Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for StateCollege.com since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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