Penn State Football: Passing Still A Threat As Nittany Lions Take On Run-Happy Gophers
Don't let the numbers fool you. If you do, you might be in for a surprise when Minnesota throws it deep on Penn State this Saturday.
Sure the Gophers are a team that will more than likely run the ball on a majority of their plays, but that doesn't mean things are one-dimensional come Saturday afternoon.
As a matter of fact, Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson was named co-Big Ten Offensive Player of The Week for his performance against Indiana. This was no small effort either, the sophomore threw for 298 yards and 4 touchdowns against Indiana in the Gophers' seventh win of the season.
So Penn State has to be careful to not overlook the passing game, even if Minnesota is often content to run the ball. Although Penn State coach Bill O'Brien approaches the situation a little differently than simply guessing what Minnesota is going to do next.
"Careful is the wrong word," O'Brien said on Tuesday. "If you go into the meeting room and say, 'hey, guys, you have to be careful now.' That is the wrong way to go. I think you have to get your linebackers to think simply. Okay, what are their tips when they play action? What are their tips when they run? Maybe it's the stance of a lineman, maybe it's a backfield set."
"Maybe it's some little thing like a near setback versus a pro or an I‑formation back. Whatever it might be, that's a tip that you use. Hey, they're going to run it here. This is a play‑action tip. Or when you're talking to your DBs, you have to tell them to be aggressively smart and stay on top of routes. They can't be too quick to react to what they see. They can't have their eyes in the backfield. So you can't take away the aggression of your team. You have to do a great job of studying film and showing the guys the difference between when they run it and when they play action it."
For Nelson, it will be another test as the young Minnesota quarterback continues to grow and gain confidence at the position. While Penn State may have the upper hand when it comes to young quarterback talent, Nelson is getting better at a rapid pace. Considering that Penn State's defense has struggled to stop the pass all year, to the tune of 238 yards per game, 75th best in Division I. So it might be easy to shrug Nelson off as nothing more than a game manager, but that would be unwise.
"(Nelson) has improved every week," O'Brien said. "He's a good runner. He's a very bright kid. You can tell he knows what he's doing running the offense. Doesn't make many mistakes. They don't turn the ball over very much. He's done a really good job of that. I think he's gotten better as a passer. So now that's a big challenge for us, because you know they can run the ball, but now they have the threat of the pass. I think it's going to be a big challenge for us. He's a young quarterback that I think is playing really well."
Young or not, Nelson must be doing something right, the Gophers score 96-percent of the time they enter the redzone. A mark that ranks third best in the nation and demands the attention of Penn State's defense come runs or high passes.