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Penn State Football: Wrinkles Or Not, Nittany Lions Not Done With The New Looks

by on October 22, 2017 3:00 PM

Penn State coach James Franklin waited little time following Saturday's 42-13 victory over Michigan to bring up the surprise look that sprung Saquon Barkley for a 69-yard score on the second play of the game.

"The 'wildcat' was mainly just because I know how much everyone loves the 'wildcat.'" Franklin said with a smile. A self-aware reference to earlier in his tenure at Penn State, when the Wildcat was a frequent staple of the offense, and frequently criticized along the way.

"I know you didn’t call it that because you guys love the 'wildcat' so much. That’s what it is, it’s the 'wildcat.' But where we did a great job is, we didn’t show it. So, instead of lining up and putting the quarterback out wide, we’re able to shift to it at the last minute so they can’t go to a 'wildcat' check. We had some wrinkles in there.

"We also watched on film and felt like if watched in a static empty, that we could get Saquon matched up on a linebacker. That’s what they had shown on film and that’s what we were able to do today and I thought that created some opportunities for us."

Safe to say it worked.

And that wasn't the only new look Penn State pulled out of the bag. Barkley would motion out wide and run an actual route during the game. In most cases Barkley starts plays in the slot only to motion back towards McSorley. On Saturday he ran, and found himself nearly pulling down a catch that may have sprung him for another score.

For Penn State fans, they're watching the Nittany Lions enter a unique stage in their progression. An experienced team able to build on its foundation of plays with even more looks and variations. Of course that requires practice, and that itself is an art form and a balancing act.

“You can come up with 125 plays like that, but you can’t get them all practiced vs. all the [defensive] looks [required],” Franklin said earlier in the week. "What is that fine line of balance that you have enough in the gameplan that you’re not predictable and can keep the defense or the offense off balance? With a more experienced offense, the bigger that number can be.”

The real wrinkle though might be that Penn State isn't really creating wrinkles for specific teams. It's just opening the playbook wider and wider, creating variations of the same basic concepts along the way. For fans and opponents it's new, but for Penn State, it's just more of what they've practiced.

"It's stuff that we worked on in camp," Franklin said of the new looks. "We had another play that Joe [Moorhead] wanted to call, and I just said I prefer you not, plays that we've been running in camp and then each week we kind of go back. What do we want to use from our overall playbook? What do we want to use that we ran in camp? The fact that we have some recall helps. So all the stuff you've seen tonight, we’ve run before so now you can kind of go back to the guys and say okay we're going to focus on this this week because of the matchups or the leverage or the angles creating space or green grass or whatever it may be.  

"We’re able to do that. Once again, because we have a mature football team, and they can recall on previous experience. Yeah, I think they're also are some things that Brent [Pry] and Charles [Huff] and Joe [Moorhead] try to save for the second half of the season so that you can kind of have a little bit more variety in your game plan when you need it."

Will it be enough to beat Ohio State? We'll get that answer in a few days. But after Saturday night it's not hard to imagine the answer being yes.

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