Play Calling: What Needs To Change

posted September 10, 2015 in CommRadio, Sports by Jack Milewski

Amidst all of the problems for Penn State last weekend during their 27-10 loss to Temple, the one that may have stood out and risen above the rest was the play calling. To say that it was mediocre would be a lie. To say that it was awful may be an understatement. Penn State put together a terrible performance in all aspects of the game and the play calling was at that forefront of that performance. If Penn State wants to improve on last season and improve on last week’s game, here are some main aspects of the play calling that have to change:

1. Mix up the Tempo: Penn State utilized a hurry up offense for most of the game against Temple. However, the team doesn’t have the personnel to keep up with that high tempo type of offense. Often times, when they tried to move quickly, they messed their rhythm up rather than the defenses. The hurry up works for teams like Oregon, but for Penn State it doesn’t seem to prove that effective, at least not last week.

2. Running the Ball Outside: Yes the offensive line is bad, but the amount of times that Penn State tried to get to the outside and failed was too many to count. They ran a jet sweep at least six times during the game, only once for a gain of more than three yards. They need to utilize the physicality of Akeel Lynch more and at least try and run through the middle. Lynch was able to break off a sizeable touchdown run when they did this on Saturday.

3. No More East-West: The amount of bubble-screens last year was unprecedented. The amount on Saturday, though not as many, was still too many to handle. First of all, Christian Hackenberg doesn’t seem comfortable making those quick throws to the outside, for whatever reason. Second, at best Penn State is gaining two to three yards on those plays, essentially wasting a passing down. If they ran this play maybe once to twice a game, they may actually have success with it. But just like in the run game, the more predictable you are, the easier it is to stop.

4. Take Shots Down Field: You have a quarterback who has arguably the best arm in the nation. He has a young, athletic receiving corps who can go up and make plays on the ball. Yet Penn State didn’t complete a passing play of more than 15 yards downfield until the fourth quarter. This is because they barely attempted any plays of that length. Hackenberg missed DaeSean Hamilton on a streak early in the second quarter. His next throw over 15 yards was a completion to Chris Godwin early in the fourth quarter. The lack of a threat of the big play makes Penn State a one-dimensional team through the air. They need to call more big plays because they have a quarterback who can make almost any throw and they have receivers who can make plays on the ball when it’s in the air.

5. Create Time for Hack: To do what I just mentioned above, Penn State is going to have to create a little time and space for Hack. Obviously you can still gain big chunks on just a three-step drop, but most deep plays require time to develop. The offensive line clearly isn’t much improved over last season, so because of that, adjustments have to be made. Two things Penn State can do is to try and eliminate pressure up the middle, so at the very least if the outsides collapse, Hack still has time to step up in the pocket and make a strong throw. The second way, which I don’t believe was attempted once last Saturday, is to roll the pocket. Hack has shown that he has the arm strength to make a throw on the run, to either side of the field. If Penn State rolls the pocket, it will give Hackenberg a good look down the field, and more time to find a receiver. At the very least it makes it easier for him to throw the ball away.

To be successful this season, Penn State is going to need to make some major adjustments and quite honestly, that has to start with the play calling. The game management was at an all-time low on Saturday and though changes weren’t made then, Penn State had better make them soon, or it could be a long season for the Nittany Lions.

Jack Milewski is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email