So Why Can’t Penn State Beat Alabama? Part 2


Don’t miss out on part one: Here

So far we’ve covered two basic and underlying elements to the Penn State-Alabama game. Alabama’s depth, or lack thereof on the defensive side of the ball (depth in regards to actual college football experience), and the style of defense Alabama plays and how that could benefit the Lion’s offensive strategy. Now it’s time to sit down and crunch the numbers.

1. Mark Ingram–

  • 9 games over a 100 yards
  • 2 games over 150 yards
  • 17 touchdowns
  • 6.1 yards a carry

I’m not going to sit here and say that Mark Ingram isn’t skilled. He has the power to run you over and not lose a step in the process. That being said, lets take a look over Ingrams’ numbers in regards to his opponents defensive strength. Stats can often be misleading at first glance and while Ingram earned every yard he ran it wasn’t always due to his superior running ability as much as some of the poor defenses he played against.

In the 2009 season Mark Ingram played against 4 teams ranked in the Top 50  in rushing defense. These teams being Texas (1), Florida(12), Virginia Tech(40), and LSU(46). Of these 4 teams only 1 of them allowed less than 100 yards per game (Texas) and as a group they allowed an average around 108 yards per game.

While playing against these 4 ranked teams Ingram rushed for roughly 520 yards or 130 yards a game in about 25 carries. In comparison Penn State (ranked 6th in rushing defense) allowed only 89 yards on the ground per game. So Penn State could in theory expect Ingram to rush for between 100 and 125 yards against them. While you would like to see less, if that yardage builds up over the span of 25-30 carries Penn State should feel pretty good about their chances. You won’t ever shutdown a good running-back, but you can keep him contained. This will only be helped by the fact Alabama has to replace 2 offensive linemen, and of course assuming the numbers hold…which we all know doesn’t happen everyday.

Ultimately Ingram wasn’t doing anything that special. When facing good teams he was putting up numbers just above their average on a high number of carries. That’s the sort of thing you expect from a solid player, and an extra 20 yards shouldn’t make a huge difference in the outcome of a game. Going into a game you expect your average to be met, and a small deviation of 20 yards isn’t going to make or break you. So in a way, the main difference between Evan Royster and Ingram statistically is the total number of carries per game. If Royster had averaged just 5 more carries a game he would have run for almost as many yards as Ingram against measurably equal defenses. It becomes difficult to measure Rosyter’s ability against top defenses in the 2009 season due to his small load of work. (13 carries against OSU) but his overall body of work has shown his ability to perform at a high level.

 At some point here an Alabama fan is going to point out the National Championship game. Ingram ran over the #1 ranked rushing defense for 113 yards and 2 touchdowns. The difference however between a disciplined Penn State defense and Texas is the situation. Texas had to take chances after losing Colt McCoy in the National Championship game. They played aggressive defense and often payed for it. As long as Penn State plays the game a play at a time, there is absolutely no reason why Tom Bradley can’t get his guys to slow down Ingram.That being said, Ingram is the nations top running back, he has power and toughness that will be hard to beat.

2. Penn State Defense–

Need more be said. Tom Bradley is maybe one of the best defensive coaches in the nation but gets little national attention. If there has been one constant over the past decade it has been Penn State’s ability to put together a defensive unit that will give you hell for a straight 60. For the most part Penn State’s defense was the only thing keeping the Lions in the games against Iowa and Ohio State last year and will be the determining factor in the pace of the game against the Tide.

Penn State  runs a maddeningly simple but tried and true Cover-3. As you can see in the figure above it is a simple defensive scheme that divides up the field and covers areas or zones. This defense is particularly strong against the run because the linebackers and safety’s (or in Penn State’s case Fritz and Hero) stay at home and cover the line of scrimmage.

The Cover-3 has been the traditional set of Penn State for..well..ever. Because Penn State stresses discipline on defense you rarely see a linebacker over-committing to a cut or a block, it happens, but more often than not the linebackers wait for the play to come to them rather than committing early. That was maybe what made Bowman such a strong linebacker. While he wasn’t the fastest player on the field he was able to move with the play and make a tackle without compromising his assignment. If Penn State is able to replicate that intelligence on the field it will determine if they are able to stop the run or not.

The secondary will be the final bit of the puzzle on the defensive side of the ball. That is due to the Cover-3’s biggest weakness, is it’s ability to give up the big pass. If you happened to watch the Rose Bowl against USC you may have noticed that. D’Anton Lynn has turned into  the type of corner that you will never hear his name called. That’s the best kind of corner because that means the opposing team won’t even try and throw his way. Assuming Lynn and Stephon Morris can continue their development that really only leaves the center of the field to take care of. Drew Astorino hasn’t quite brought his game to the next level but he plays well enough that he shouldn’t make too many big mistakes. In the end the secondary will need to be on the same page if the Lions will have any chance of winning the game. Ingram won’t beat Penn State, but a good quarterback and a few wideouts will.

Part 3 coming up..