Penn State’s offense, coming into the season, was unknown to the rest of the country.
In fact, Bill O’Brien assumed opponents struggled to decide which tape to watch.
“Do you watch New England film?” O’Brien said, listing the teams he or his assistant coaches worked with. “Do you watch Auburn film? Do you watch South Carolina film?”
However, now in the heat of Big Ten play, there’s no question opponents will be scouting the Lions’ fast-paced, ‘NASCAR’-style offense that has entered the national spotlight in recent weeks.
Despite opponents’ increased awareness of the offensive scheme, players said the offense is so unpredictable in itself that it will continue to succeed.
Heading into a matchup with No. 9 Ohio State, tight end Garry Gilliam said the offense has the ability to change its strategy mid-game if it suspects the opponent is catching on.
“At halftime, we can change the way it is, whether it’s the signals or whether it’s the formations we’re in,” Gilliam said. “It’s not ever really a worry, because our playbook itself is very dynamic as well as our NASCAR [plays], so I don’t think that’s an issue really.”
Still, Penn State’s offense, which has averaged 37.3 points per game in Big Ten play, has shown trends in its recent streak.
The Lions’ no-huddle offense has run its last three opponents into the ground by executing an average of 90.3 plays per game. Furthermore, O’Brien has continued his aggressive play calling, going for it on fourth down an average of 4.3 times per conference game.
With that in mind, the Buckeyes won’t be blindsided, assuming this is the style of play they are faced with on Saturday.
Yet, similar to a chess match, Matt McGloin said he is able to audible the offensive play-call on the fly if he feels the defense has prepared well for the upcoming play.
“I have the ability if I see something, I can just call my own play or call my own protection or anything like that,” McGloin said. “I can do whatever I think is necessary to make the play and coach O’Brien and coach Fisher have trust in me.”
Center Matt Stankiewitch said the quarterback’s ability to handle the complex signaling system and relay it to the rest of the offense has been the main reason for the team’s success on audibles.
Stankiewitch added, though, that all 11 members of the offense must be on the same page, or else the system fails.
“And he tells us only a little part of what he’s going to be yelling out,” Stankiewitch said. “He’s not actually going to [say] what the protection is or what type of protection, so we have to be in tune for that.”
The communication of McGloin and his linemen was especially tested this past weekend at Iowa, where the Lions faced a hostile away crowd. However, Penn State’s offense recorded one of its finest efforts of the season against the Hawkeyes, recording a season-high 504 total yards.
Gilliam said the key to adjusting to the opponent’s defensive formation on the fly is blocking out the distractions.
“It’s a lot of hand signals, really being connected to coach O’Brien and what he’s signaling in and to McGloin, what he’s signaling to us,” Gilliam said. “And we just kind of hone it in and stay more focused on that.”