Newly-minted Penn State offensive coordinator John Donovan sat at the dais in Beaver Stadium’s media room, awaiting a second question at the assistant coaches’ formal introduction Friday afternoon.
A voice, one that wasn’t enunciated via a microphone, rang loudly through the massive room. The question came from the recruiting lounge, directly above the open-aired media room.
“How many points a game are we going to score next year?” new head coach James Franklin said with a beaming smile.
“As much as it takes to win,” Donovan responded immediately.
Donovan’s face was a foreign one to grace the Beaver Stadium media room, but what he preached was recognizable.
“Pro-style” and “personnel-oriented” — sounds rather familiar, doesn't it?
With similarities to what Bill O'Brien ran at Penn State the past two years, the Nittany Lions' new offense shouldn't be all that foreign to the current players.
Franklin and Donovan aren’t installing the pistol, read option or wildcat. Instead, the Lions' offensive system moving forward has its roots in a professional approach.
"I think they've got a good base the last couple years of learning a pro system," Donovan said at a press conference Friday. "[I] look forward to seeing what they know and seeing how they translate to what we're going to run."
Like what O'Brien had in place, Donovan said the system is one "that's used at the next level.”
It also worked well at Vanderbilt, where Donovan served as offensive coordinator for the past three seasons facing consistently solid defenses in the Southeastern Conference.
In those three years — 2011, 2012 and 2013 — Donovan's offense generated 27.9 points per game on average. In the two years prior to the arrival of Franklin, Donovan and company in Nashville, the Commodores posted an average of 16.6 points per game in 2009 and 2010 combined .
Much of that turnaround can be credited to Donovan, who Franklin said called “every single play” the last three years. For the future, Franklin said Donovan will “more likely than not” call plays at Penn State, but that decision has yet to be made.
And while that remains slightly unclear, there’s no question to what the offense will try to accomplish.
“We're multiple, and we'll cater to our personnel,” Donovan said. “Get our best players on the field, and take advantage of what we have and what the defense gives us.”
It sounds simple and some of the concepts should resonate with players like Christian Hackenberg and Zach Zwinak , but the base offense Donovan will run isn't a carbon-copy of O'Brien's.
Terminology will be different, and on-field nuances like shifts and motions will likely change.
That brings up the first thing Donovan said he is going to do — meet with the players and teach them those nuances, along with the offense's base formation, huddle and more.
But after that, Donovan said he will have his guys like Hackenberg, Zwinak and others look to the other side of the ball.
Donovan said he wants his offense to not just read the opposition, but rather understand defenses and why they do what they do to attack those defenses.
And how will Donovan and his system go after defenses? Balance.
That doesn't necessarily mean a 50-50 split between the run and the pass. It's a balanced approach that runs when the Lions have to and want to. The same goes for the passing game.
“That is the style we’re going to play,” Donovan said. “We’re going to be smart. We’re going to play smart, we’re going to understand situational football and do things that don’t hurt the team.”
It’s not just Donovan who believes in this balanced, pro-style offense.
New wide receivers coach Josh Gattis , who spent the last two seasons at Vanderbilt, said the system, one he’s been a part of before, hones in on having a collective effort stemming from a plethora of talented contributors.
Franklin himself said the offensive philosophy is one that he and Donovan had “evolved” over the past three years.
And given the tools Donovan has to work with in the near future, it’s just a matter of applying principle to practice.
It’ll be made known next fall if Donovan’s offense can do what Franklin asked — generate enough points to win games.
John McGonigal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (814) 865-1828. Follow him on Twitter at @jmcgonigal9.