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Ben State Football: Busting Myths After A Not So Happy Weekend In Happy Valley

by on September 29, 2014 2:00 PM

When a team you root for loses, that's usually the best time to make rational declarations about how "you" would have fixed it. Even if you know how silly you sound, just getting the thought off your chest provides a bit of emotional relief. After all, half the fun in sports is coaching from the couch.

And so with Penn State's first loss of the season only a day old there is plenty of coaching to be found on the internet and around the dinner table. That's fine. It's expected -- but that doesn't mean every solution is going to work.

So for the first time this season we're in for some MythBusters.We're breaking down real solutions and conclusions offered up by Penn State fans across the Internet. Some are more valid than others.

Myth: If James Franklin really cared about Penn State he would fire (OL coach) Herb Hand.

On the surface this kind of statement seems so bizarre that it is almost immediately dismissed. What it really speaks to though is a somewhat blind assumption that all Penn State teams are created equal, that every offensive line can reach the same level of success. It also assumes that everyone knows what the offensive line would look like A: Without Hand at the helm and B: What the offensive line looked like when it started practicing together.

It's not hard to bust a myth that says "Fire a coach after one bad game" and it's even harder to say that when that bad game is the result of a unit already expected to struggle. Could Penn State's offensive line been better? Absolutely. Is the current state of affairs a result of poor coaching, preparation and a fireable offense? That seems to be a bit of a stretch.

A final thought on the subject -- Penn State's sanction situation didn't evaporate once the sanctions were lifted. In some areas Penn State has the benefit of burning a redshirt or giving someone else a chance to play. Penn State's offensive line is about all of what the roster has to offer in terms of players ready to play right now. How that came to be is a question for another day.

Conclusion: Busted. 

Myth: Penn State should run 20-25 plays out of the I Formation per game.

The secret to cracking Penn State's offensive line has come down in the most simple context to just rushing more players than the line can block. That is essentially the whole point of a blitz in the first place.

Lining up in the I Formation does provide a sense of battering ram safety that just pits bodies on bodies with a straight ahead attack. But it also invites more players to crowd the box. If Penn State's offensive line is struggling to run the ball in a normal spread situation, stacking up and asking more defensive players to enter the equation probably isn't going to help all that much.

Is it worth making things simple on short yardage situations? Sure. But 20-25 plays out of the I, even if some are play action passes likely brings with it more issues than solutions. The type of offense fans used to criticize isn't going to be the solution to this problem.

Conclusion: Busted.

Myth: The Wildcat formation isn't working.

When you aren't loaded with talent in every essential area sometimes the best solution is to just start out the play with the ball in the hands of one of your better players. As a a result Penn State has run a variety of plays out of the Wildcat formation with a wide range of success. A handoff from Bill Belton to Akeel Lynch ended with a long touchdown run while a pass by Belton ended with an incompletion.

At this point the use of the Wildcat seems to be more of an issue of when it's called than the fact that it's a part of the offense at all. After a 51-yard pass to DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State followed it up with a Wildcat pass and a running play. It's the kind of feeling that Penn State is using it just to use it that frustrates fans.

That being said there is value in running it from time to time and not every Wildcat run has ended with a negative result. Considering that Penn State has struggled to run the ball traditionally the Wildcat at least gives defenses one more things to prepare for and one more thing that has gone about as well as the traditional running attack has. If Penn State is going to struggle to run the ball all season and is committed to trying to do so successfully, then the Wildcat is an alternative option.

It hasn't been a smashing success, but it's not time to forget it all together either.

Conclusion: Plausible 

Myth: Christian Hackenberg is a bust.

Hackenberg hasn't been perfect. He has said and will continue to be the first to admit that. But to say he is a bust is to largely ignore what Hackenberg has already done and what he is now currently working with. Passes have been off, he has looked shaky and when he has made throws they haven't always been caught. There is no doubt about that, but it's only part of the puzzle.

A study by Pro Football Focus in 2012 found that Tom Brady got rid of the ball faster than any other quarterback in the NFL. Brady from snap to throw would take on average 2.49 seconds to deliver a pass over the span of 335 drop backs. Seattle's Russell Wilson took the longest time with 3.14 seconds per pass over 274 drop backs.

On the flip side, 13 of the 33 quarterbacks in the study were sacked on average in less than 3 seconds over the span of 217 to 357 drop backs. Four quarterbacks (two including the super mobile Wilson and Michael Vick) could go over 4 seconds without being sacked on average.

What does this all mean? The best/fastest throwing quarterback in the league could get rid of the ball only just as fast as some quarterbacks were getting sacked.

And that comes back to two items. The separation Brady's targets were getting from defenders and the protection he was getting in the pocket. Three quarterbacks in the NFL in 2012 were actually sacked faster on average than Brady was able to pass the ball. Even if Brady had been there instead of those three quarterbacks chances are he would have been pressured just as much.

So has Hackenberg struggled? Sure, but it's hard to imagine anyone thriving much better than he has given the situation. Is he a bust? No, but the myth is.

Conclusion: Busted

Myth: Penn State's offensive line will always be bad.

It's impossible to sit here and say that the offensive line will be able to do X,Y, and Z by the time the three underclassmen starters have finished their careers. But chances are they will be bigger, stronger and smarter by that time. In theory this myth is true. They could never get better and they could never improve.

But it isn't very likely in the long haul.

Conclusion: Plausible, but unlikely.

Myth: Penn State shouldn't have lost to Northwestern.

This isn't exactly black and white, but there are a few things to consider. Rutgers is the only team full of Big Ten players and Rutgers is the only team that has given Penn State real issues when it comes to winning. (UCF game was close but the Knights didn't fluster Penn State as much.)

Northwestern, a team even more equipped with Big Ten level players and experience to boot hasn't been good over the past two years. But much like Penn State it doesn't take much for poor to turn into just enough to win. Saturday's game was essentially two average to poor teams seeing who would be less poor on that day. Northwestern's experience and talent paid off and Penn State's issues finally mattered. When the talent gap is smaller and the experience gap is wider it's going to create issues for any team.

Did anyone expect Penn State to look that poor? Probably not. But it's not surprising that it eventually happened against a team not much different than Penn State. The Nittany Lions could have played better in ways Northwestern didn't and that's where the doubt begins to creep in. The Nittany Lions are a coin-flip each and every week. So anything is possible, but the loss was avoidable.

Conclusion: Plausible

There are plenty more reactions out there in the world, including the future of offensive coordinator of John Donovan (which is and should be perfectly safe in State College), but the ones listed above seemed to be the most common.


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Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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