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The National: Five Penn State Stats Compared To The Rest Of The Nation

by on October 29, 2018 12:50 PM

When you look at the numbers, Penn State is a very odd team. On the one hand the Nittany Lions are among the best in the nation when it comes to scoring in the red zone. On the other hand they are among the worst at converting on third down.

The defense gives up lots of yards, but not many yards per play. Lots of yards, but not many points. 

In many ways it speaks to the nature of Penn State's season, a year that has had flashes of brilliance coupled with completely unwatchable football and head scratching mistakes. For every good thing there is something ugly. For every bad moment there is a play full of promise.

So could Penn State be better? Yes. But it could also be worse. Just depends how you like your glasses.

 

Total defense: 386 yards per game is 64th best in the nation. Ranked 71st in the nation last week.

Penn State's defense played one of its most complete games this past weekend against Iowa even with the Hawkeyes making a late surge. Holding Iowa to less than 200 yards through three quarters really helped out this cause and ranking in the process. As noted before, yards and points are two very different things, Penn State is 35th in scoring defense while almost twice as "bad" at the yardage game. So there's something to be said for keeping teams out of the end zone even if you're giving up plenty of yards otherwise.

Of note for this particular week, Michigan is first in the nation in total defense giving up 220 yards per game and 3.71 yards per play.

An interesting wrinkle, Penn State allows 4.75 yards per play which is 21st in the nation, a far cry from what you might expect for a team giving up almost 400 yards of offense per game. The catch, the Nittany Lions have been on the field for 652 plays this year, 122nd in the nation with only eight teams on the field for more.

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So it's simple, Penn State's defense is doing fine when its on the field any given play, it's just seeing way too many plays. For comparison, Penn State's defense faced 898 plays last year.

Third down conversion: 35.78% is ranked 102nd. 93rd in the nation last week.

Given the general trend in this area all season, one week wasn't going to help the ranking by any wide margin and a bad game was only going to hurt. That's what happened on Saturday after another underwhelming performance in this area.

Overall Penn State is 39 of 109 third down attempts. For comparison Rutgers is dead last at 130th with 34 of 114 and Michigan is 11th in the nation at 47.79% with 54 conversions on 113 attempts.

It's not rocket science here, but if Penn State wants to beat the Wolverines it will have to move the chains on key downs. So far the Nittany Lions haven't done that on third down, often the result of facing long yardage situations on that down to begin with.

Red zone offense: 94.44% is 8th best nationally was also ranked 8th last week.

Ironically, for all of the issues Penn State's offense has, scoring in the red zone isn't one of them.

Sitting at 34 of 36 overall with 29 TDs the Nittany Lions are making the most of their chances. In total the 29 TDs is 8th best in the nation with 33 being the national lead held by Alabama. Penn State is doing just fine in this area, actually a bit better than usual, so there's not much to criticize here.

Of note, over the past 10 years no team that has led the nation in red zone success has done it with a rate lower than the North Texas rate of 94.29% in 2014.

Sacks: 28 sacks is third best in the nation. Ranked 6th last week.

Yetur Gross-Matos joined the sack parade with two of his own this past weekend en route to being name Big Ten defensive player of the week. His nine tackles were one off his career-high 10 stops he made last week at Indiana. He tied his career high with the 2.0 sacks and set a personal standard with the four stops behind the line. Six of Gross-Matos’ nine tackles were for no gain or a loss.

Penn State's defensive front coupled with Brent Pry's proclivity for blitzing has given everyone chances to sack the quarterback and so far it has worked.

The national lead is Oklahoma State with 31 while Michigan is 15th with 24 and Iowa exits the weekend in 12th with 25.

Penn State has had at least 40 sacks each of the past three seasons which has seen the Nittany Lions ranked anywhere from first in 2015 to 19th in 2016. The 2017 figure of 42 sacks, seventh best in the nation, seems like a reasonable goal to aim for.

Total individual offense: 2245 yards is 23rd best in the nation. Was ranked 25th in the nation last week.

Trace keeps chugging along, hurt or not. Penn State's offense sputtering at times on Saturday didn't help his numbers much but a 51-yard touchdown run sure did. McSorley is going to continue to plug along in this category. If he can make some strides towards a Top 15 finish again remains to be seen, but with Rutgers still looming on the schedule there is, in theory, a chance to rack up some yards there.

He will probably need to kick it into high gear to finish in the Top 15 for a third straight season, but I wouldn't put anything past McSorley as he approaches the final few games of his collegiate career.



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