The Penn State offense wasn’t broken under Mike Yurcich, but it was far from a well-oiled machine. In Drew Allar’s first season as starting quarterback for the Nittany Lions, he was playing hesitant and conservative, but down the stretch, things changed under interim co-offensive coordinators Ty Howle and Ja’Juan Seider.
Heading into Saturday’s Peach Bowl matchup with Ole Miss, Penn State’s offense still has a good taste in its mouth after its best performance of the year, a 42-0 win over Michigan State. That night, Allar threw for 292 yards and two touchdowns including a 60-yard deep shot to Omari Evans.
During his press conference in the lead-up to the New Year’s Six Bowl, Allar may have revealed the reason why things changed so dramatically for the offense that was 118th in passing plays of 20+ yards in the regular season.
The answer lies in a simple phrase echoed by the entire Penn State offensive coaching staff, “Simplicity equals speed.”
Sophomore running back, and star of last season’s Rose Bowl, Nick Singleton summed up the philosophy, “Just playing fast, not thinking too much. Ever since then, we’ve been playing fast and just not thinking and playing the game.”
Allar elaborated more on how that philosophy impacts the scheme of the offense in a practical way. Specifically, the passing offense that ranked 89th in the nation.
“I think Coach Seider and Coach Howle have done a great job of giving us simple rules to follow, not giving us too many looks or too many rules. For receivers, thinking about on a certain leverage, they could do this, but they should do that. It's just you're running the route this way. That allows those guys to play fast.”
This season, Allar didn’t throw his first interception until Week 9 against Indiana. In hindsight, that may not have been a good thing. It was a lot more reflective of a quarterback reluctant to take chances and hesitant to trust his eyes than it was of a player dissecting Big Ten defenses with surgical precision.
Less than 10% of Allar’s throws traveled over 20 yards downfield and his average depth of target was just 8.0 for the year, but in the season finale his ADOT shot up to 11.1 and he averaged 11.2 yards per attempt. So what accounts for the sudden aggressiveness?
Allar’s comment explains those numbers and his underwhelming performance. They also leave his former offensive coordinator with tire marks across his face as the bus he just got thrown under speeds off.
Yurcich was asking too much of a young quarterback with inexperienced receivers. Howle and Seider on the other hand are asking less and getting more.
When asked about the transition after Yurcich was dismissed, Howle summed it up well, “The first thing we thought about was players, not plays. Who are the guys that are going to help us win? And being able to take advantage of things that they do well and put them in the positions to do those things.”
That’s exactly what they did for their 19-year-old former five-star quarterback. Yurcich was asking him to do the quarterback equivalent of calculus, instantaneously identifying the defensive coverage and leverage while anticipating how his receivers would respond.
The thing is, Allar could solve the problems, just a half-beat too late which left a lot of meat on the bone of the offense. Sean Clifford, with his five years of college football education, could operate Yurcich’s offense, but Allar even with his superior arm talent, wasn’t ready for master’s level courses.
What Howle and Seider are asking him to do is the equivalent of the timed tests we all had to take to learn our multiplication tables. He knows the answers, he just has to beat the defense to it.
Allar continued his comments, “That makes my job a lot easier just because I think the timing and communication got on like a different level because I was able to anticipate more what everybody was doing out on the perimeter.”
It’ll be important to take responsibility off of Allar’s plate after the snap on Saturday because the Ole Miss defense requires a lot of a quarterback and offensive line before the snap.
Allar detailed what he saw on film in preparation for Saturday, “They’re a very multiple team, play a lot of even and odd fronts. So we’re going to have to be tight on communication up front, whether it’s run-blocking schemes or pass-protection.”
For all the problems that a versatile defensive front can create, Ole Miss has been susceptible to big plays in the passing game, allowing 41 passing plays of 20+ yards this season, ranking 76th in the country.
Saturday will be an opportunity for Allar to shine and put to rest any questions about his future heading into 2024, and it looks like Howle and Seider have put him in the best situation to do just that.