The 12 Ills That Are Plaguing Penn State Football in 2020
November 19, 2020 11:00 PM
by Mike Poorman
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The plague of 2020?


For Penn State football, anyway.

More than anything else, Penn State head coach James Franklin blames turnovers for his team's 0-4 start.

Franklin is positive the biggest negative contributing to the Nittany Lions' Owen Fore start is that they are coughing up the football.

The Nittany Lions have lost nine turnovers in the first four games of the season, while causing only three. In each and every loss of 2020, Penn State has lost the turnover battle.

No one has lost it more than quarterback Sean Clifford, who has thrown six interceptions and lost two fumbles, both of which were scooped up and returned for a TD. QB Will Levis is responsible for Penn State's other lost fumble.

In the initial 54 seconds of his post-game press conference after losing 30-23 to Nebraska, Franklin spat out "turnovers" five times.

Time-lapse-wise, it went like this:

"Turnovers continue to be a problem...Not only turnovers, but turnovers for touchdowns...but again, the turnovers hurt us...turnovers continue to be an issue for us. We got to get it resolved and resolved quickly."

Compare the Nittany Lions' 9 to 3 turnover disadvantage in 2020 to its overwhelming 67 to 47 advantage in 2017-2019. (Hmm, maybe it's better if you don't.)

Making matters worse, Penn State's opponent on Saturday in Beaver Stadium, Iowa, already has eight interceptions in 2020; at least one interception in its last 11 games; and has a college football-high 61 interceptions since the start of the 2017 season (by comparison, Penn State's defense has had 33 interceptions in that time).

Not to be picky.

That's why turnovers are our No. 1 pick for 12 reasons why Penn State is 0-4 this season.

On to the next 11:

2. POINTS OFF OF TURNOVERS. This is a corollary to No. 1. Opponents have turned Penn State's turnovers into 27 points. Penn State has turned its paltry three turnovers gained — interceptions by Lamont Wade and Brandon Smith, a fumble recovery by Ellis Brooks — into a touchdown. One. Advantage to the opposition: 27-7.

3. SLOW START. Ohio State, Maryland and Nebraska each went 75 yards on the game's opening drive for a touchdown and 7-0 leads that they never relinquished. The spate of uninspired starts is kinda odd and a bit sad, considering Penn State's head coach fought so hard for his guys to even have a chance to play, which so far they have squandered.

After first drive — Penn State 0 points, Opponents 21

After first quarter — 10-38

After first half — 26-93

After third quarter — 50-114

4. INEFFECTIVE DRIVES. It's not just opening drives where Penn State has a tough time getting going; it lags for drives and drives. Here are the first batches of Penn State's offensive drives in 2020 — a total of four scores and 23 points in 198 game-opening plays:

vs. Indiana — 1 TD in first 8 drives (57 plays)

vs. Ohio State — 1 FG in first 5 drives (27 plays)

vs. Maryland — 1 TD in first 9 drives (64 plays)

vs. Nebraska — 2 FG's in first 6 drives (50 plays)

5. FIELD POSITION AFTER KICKOFFS. This is a bit of a stunner since Penn State's Jordan Stout is an almost automatic touchback, sticking opponents at the 25-yard line. But, given Penn State's occasional fair-catch "strategy" (so why don't other teams do this?), you can see why this might be a stand-off. But it is not. Starting field position following kickoffs:

Indiana 27.5-yard line, Penn State 25.

Ohio State 29.4, Penn State 24.1.

Maryland 30.3, Penn State 24.3.

Nebraska 26.7, Penn State 23.

6. AVERAGE FIELD POSITION. Average is right. Maybe even sub-par. Poor field position means longer drives which means chances for more turnovers and fewer points.

Indiana 33-yard line, Penn State 38.

Ohio State 35, Penn State 27.

Maryland 33, Penn State 20.

Nebraska 32, Penn State 27.

7. RED ZONE SCORING. Penn Stade has actually gotten inside the 20-yard line more times than its opponents, but it's failed more often. And found more ways to fail, too.

Red zone scoring: Penn State 12 of 19 (63%), Opponents 13 of 15 (87%).

Penn State red zone results: 8 TD, 4 FG, 3 missed FG, 1 turnover, 3 turnovers on downs.

Opponent red zone results: 8 TDs, 5 FG, 2 missed FG.

8. SACKS. Normally a Penn State forte. But since teams have been playing with leads in 2020,  they have passed less. And let's not discount the departure of Sean "Chaos" Spencer, either. PSU's last three foes have registered more sacks than the Nittany Lions, as Sean Clifford can attest:

Sacks by Penn State: 9 for 62 yards.

Sacks by Opponents: 15 for 100 yards.

9. FIELD GOALS. This counts 56-yarders into the wind 21 points down....56-yarders that failed.

Penn State field goals: 5 of 10 (50%).

Opponents field goal: 6 of 8 (75%).

10. EXPLOSIVE PLAYS. Penn State actually comes out a bit ahead here, 25 to 21 plays of 20 yards or more. In the past, the Nittany Lions have so traditionally dominated this category — 106 to 76 in 2016, 124 to 84 in 2017 — that a small advantage this year hardly seems like one at all. Note all the ways the opposition is getting explosive plays...complementary Penn State football that is not-so-complimentary. Plays of 20 or more yards:

Penn State: 15 pass, 4 run, 5 KR, 1 PR.

Opponents: 11 pass, 4 run, 2 PR, 2 fumble, 1 interception, 1 missed FG return.

11. THIRD- AND FOURTH-DOWNS. A small difference, but these things add up:

Penn State: 35 of 75 (46.6%).

Opponents: 30 of 63 (47.65).

12. GAME MANAGEMENT. Fill in your own blank_________________________.

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