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Penn State Football: Defense Zaps Zips in One Fell (Bob) Shoop Swoop

by on September 06, 2014 8:54 PM

Penn State was in a zone to open its game against Akron on Saturday in Beaver Stadium.

Not zone, as being focused in. The Nittany Lions were anything but.

It was more like zone, as in playing Zombie-like on their collective heels and allowing Akron quarterback Kyle Pohl to complete consecutive passes of 4, 10, 19 and 23 yards. And that was just for (game) openers.

Lucky for Penn State that when Akron reached the PSU 7-yard line just 4:01 into the contest they called time out. It zipped them right out of the game.

“In the first series we were in zone coverage and they were picking us apart,” said fifth-year senior linebacker Mike Hull, who led the Nittany Lions with eight tackles to complement the team-high 11 he had last week in Dublin.

High above the field, in the rickety old (literally unchanged since 1960) coaches room on the third floor of the Beaver Stadium press box, defensive coordinator Bob Shoop saw what was happening. Now, Shoop is a smart guy. He’s a Yalie, who was once head coach at Columbia, coached both William & Mary to the No. 2–ranked defense in the FCS, and turned Vandy into a dandy D that was ranked 18th, 19th and 23rd in total defense in his three years in Nashville with James Franklin.

With two minutes to think, the economics major did some figuring and changed his defensive game plan just 241 seconds on the game clock into his first experience coaching in Beaver Stadium.

“When they got in the red zone and called a timeout, we put in our blitz package,” said Hull, the defensive leader who calls Shoop’s signals on the field. “That threw them off. They had trouble adjusting to the line movements. We like that a lot – we don’t like to just sit back there.”

I’ll say. On the next two plays, defensive tackle Anthony Zettel, coming through the middle, and then cornerback Jordan Lucas, sprinting off the edge, dropped Pohl for sacks of four and then two yards. That forced Akron into a 37-yard field goal attempt, which Tom O’Leary missed.

From that point on, Penn State eschewed the zone and chewed up the Akron offense, yielding just a 28-yard third-quarter field goal in the Nittany Lions’ 21-3 home opener before a Beaver Stadium crowd announced at 97,354 (#4.991k more than the 2013 home opener vs. Eastern Michigan).

And from that point on, Pohl and his teammates watched their backs. Repeatedly.

The rest of the way Penn State held Akron to just 217 yards and three points, as overall the PSU defense recorded four sacks and seven tackles. On nine of the remaining 11 Akron possessions, Penn State held the Zips – who beat Howard last week on six TD drives that lasted an average of 79 seconds – to six drives that netted a cumulative 35 yards and three more that never went more than 33 yards.

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THE STRAIGHT POOP ON SHOOP

Of course, it was all Shoop’s fault. At least Penn State’s players look at it that way.

Linebacker Brandon Bell, a promising undergrad at LBU: “With Coach Shoop, it’s always about being more aggressive. That’s what he tells us. It’s definitely more fun. Shoop pretty much decides what the weakness is on a play and we have blitzes from every angle, so he flips the page and finds something he likes. We do them all in practice. We have ’em from every angle and from every position.”

Lucas, the defense’s energy source: “I have a lot of fun because of the position I’m in. Coach Shoop is the play-caller and I love the fact that he’s aggressive. He knows what’s good for our defense and he knows our strong suits. We have a lot of strong suits on our defense.”

Zettel, the new Zenmaster of the Lions' interior lineplay: "We’re more aggressive. We adjusted well when they got here and through spring ball. The defense all bought into Coach Shoop’s philosophy."

Hull, the leader of the defense: “I would say Coach Shoop is definitely the best defensive coordinator I’ve played under so far. Hopefully it keeps on continuing that way. He really puts everyone in a good position to make good plays.”

Hull is typically a man of few words – except on the playing field. (More on that in a second.) He’s also a man now on his sixth D-coordinator in his five years at Penn State. There was Tom Bradley, co-coordinators Ron Vanderlinden and Larry Johnson when Bradley was elevated to interim head coach in November 2011, Ted Roof, John Butler and now Shoop.

So that’s saying something.

That Hull is talking on the field is a big switch for him as well. Hull moved from outside to middle linebacker in the offseason, a shift that made him the hub of the Lion defense. In football vernacular the middle linebacker is always called Mike, the strongside (tight end) is called Sam and the weakside is Will.

HULL OF A CHANGE

Mike fits Mike quite well. “We have more communication” this year, said defensive end Deion Barnes. “I’m talking to Jordan more. I’m talking to Mike more. Mike communicates a lot, so he helps us all out. Mike’s communication is basically the key to the defense.” 

Hull verbalizes the change this way:

“As a Mike linebacker, I’m setting the front, saying what blitz we have and which way we’re running it and which way the tight end is. Safeties have all the coverage responsibilities.

“I think we’re blitzing a lot more. I think this is pretty close to what Ted Roof did when he was here. I’d say it’s pretty close to that, but even a little bit more. We like it and it gets everyone excited, especially the D-line.”

And certainly everyone includes That Smart Guy named Shoop.

 

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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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