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Penn State Football: Wildcat Creativity Could Help Diversify Offense

by on April 13, 2014 6:00 AM

Giving the defense something to think about.

That is in many ways the offensive coordinator's biggest job, making the defense think, gamble, and guess at what is coming next. All while scheming up the best way to optimize talent on the offensive side of the ball.

While Penn State's annual Blue White game was -- like many spring games -- far from a showcase of offensive firepower, there was one little wrinkle that showed up on Saturday afternoon inside Beaver Stadium.

The Wildcat.

A direct snap offense that cuts out the middle man (the quarterback) and snaps the ball directly to a receiver or running back in the shotgun formation. It's not flashy but it gets the ball into the hands of playmaker

On the surface the wildcat may appear to be a gimmick. The defense can usually rule out a passing play and it becomes a matter of figuring out which direction the runner is going.

But for a Penn State team that is thin at many positions on the offensive side of the ball it gives opposing defenses one more thing to worry about. You may not have an abundance of weapons to work with, but simply giving the defense one more possibility to prepare for can be an advantage in itself. Disguise your weakness and make it an asset. Football is all about getting the ball in the hands of your best players and letting them make plays. An effective wildcat offense sprinkled into a more traditional playbook can give a defense a lot more to chew on before and during the game.

"Any time you've got to respect guys being able to do multiple things it puts a little pressure on the defense," Offensive coordinator John Donovan said following the game. "So now that it's out there and they know that he can do that now they can't be as fast to react to other things they might see."

Penn State ran direct snap plays over a half dozen times throughout Saturday's scrimmage with various levels of success. Receivers and running backs both got the ball in various formations. It's something Donovan has worked with before, but how much it will be a part of Penn State's offense in the upcoming season remains to be seen.

"We did it down at Vandy, and we had some good success with it and we've done a lot more with it than what you saw today with it from there, so that's just a little showing and we'll kind of go from there. Each year the team is different and your personnel is different so you know it's something that we've always done and we'll probably still do it some but where it goes from here is yet to be determined."

Ultimately the wildcat solves a few issues for Penn State -- keeping Christian Hackenberg off the ground, and getting the ball into the hands of talented players. Every play that gains yards and keeps Hackenberg healthy is a small victory for all involved.

"We talk about protecting the quarterback and protecting the ball. Those are two things that we talk about all the time. You have to do whatever you have to do to keep him upright and that's always going to be a goal of ours." Donovan said.

With 15 practices in the books, Donovan has a good feeling about who those talented players are. It's a learning process as coach and player get to know each other but with an emphasis on "process" as the development of a team does not end with the conclusion of training camp.

"I think we have a really good base after these 15 practices and being with them everyday and understanding what we can and cannot do and what we can put on the field," Donovan said.

"We're different from year to year and you're different from spring to summer and into the fall. So you get back with a good offseason program and see who has developed and who has retained information and as the season goes along you start to figure out who you're going to be and do whatever you've got to do to win games"

And as far as Geno Lewis throwing a 56-yard touchdown to Matt Zanellato on a double-reverse?

"He's going to want more touches," Donovan said smiling. "He should quit while he's ahead."

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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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