If it seems as though the Penn State defense is racing to get into position against Ohio on Saturday, it’s by design.
The Nittany Lions have been getting ready to face the Bobcats’ quick-paced offense by running a special drill in practice designed to make sure their play-calling is in the fast lane, too.
Linebacker Gerald Hodges calls it the “NASCAR” drill, one that involves a lot of hurry-up type scenarios.
“Our offense is similar with their type of pace, so we’ve been seeing it since day one of camp and in spring ball,” Hodges said.
Ohio’s offense is led by quarterback Tyler Tettleton, who put up big numbers in the air and on the ground last season, passing for 3,306 yards and 28 touchdowns against 10 interceptions while picking up 658 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground.
The Norman, Okla. native credits his team’s aggressive offensive attack, which rushes to the line and snaps the ball with little time between plays, for helping his production.
“The biggest thing is keeping the defense on their heels,” Tettleton said. “If we do that and we execute and go fast...we’re going to be hard to stop.”
The Bobcats were so hard to stop, in fact, that they finished ranked No. 41 nationally in points per game last season with 30.5 — 11.2 points per game better than Penn State. They threw for an average of 249 yards per game, compared to Penn State’s 177, and they rushed for 196.4 yards per game, 31 yards better than the Lions’ average of 165.4.
Penn State coach Bill O’Brien believes this Ohio team could be even better, too. He said during his weekly teleconference on Tuesday that he thinks the Bobcats will come to Beaver Stadium with their best team in Frank Solich’s eight seasons in Athens.
To counter, the Lions plan to focus on Tettleton and pursue him carefully.
“That quarterback can fly. He’s fast,” defensive lineman Pete Massaro said. “We’re definitely going to have to contain him, make sure we stay in our rush lanes and make sure we play with some discipline to make sure that he doesn’t escape the pocket and break a 40-yard run downfield.”
Ohio’s up-tempo philosophy will put that discipline to quite a test, though, and force the Lions to make more stops than they might have to against a team with a more methodical approach.
“You get more snaps, you get more points,” Ohio running back Beau Blankenship said. “It’s a great offense and allows you to have more reps and with more reps you have more opportunities to score and to wear the team down.”
Blankenship took advantage of a worn down defense last season, breaking loose for a 48-yard run against Central Michigan on his way to gaining 129 yards and scoring two touchdowns in a 43-28 Ohio victory.
If Penn State’s defense has its way, though, it will minimize the big gains and force the Bobcats to put up points without a whole lot of big plays.
Hodges thinks the Lions’ racing-themed drills have them prepared to handle the task, too.
“We’re getting pretty used to it. We got a feel for it, and I think we’ll be able to manage it pretty well come Saturday,” Hodges said.