Penn State addresses 3rd-down struggles
College Football Videos
Proving he masters the obvious as much as he does route-running and big-play ability, Allen Robinson commented on the Penn State offense's performance on third downs this season.
“We might not be at the percentage that we would like to have,” the Nittany Lions' prolific junior receiver said.
Probably not. Penn State's 7.7 percent conversation rate (2 for 26) ranks 123rd in the country. There are 123 FBS teams.
There's no question the Lions (2-0) will have to improve upon that if they are to match or exceed last season's eight victories.
As the level of competition increases — beginning 6 p.m. Saturday against Central Florida (2-0) — Penn State will need to execute at a rate of better than once of every 13 third-downs.
Coach Bill O'Brien vows it will.
“I can't guarantee it; I'm not into guarantees — but I do believe we're working on it, and it will definitely, in my opinion, improve,” O'Brien said. “It needs to. There's no question about it.
“It has to improve.”
But a closer examination of the first two games reveals the Lions haven't been as awful on third downs as the raw numbers might suggest.
Freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg is a respectable 9 for 14 for 74 yards on third down. Just two of those completions resulted in first downs, but other throws were otherwise successful:
• One pass on a third-and-8 in the opener against Syracuse gained 23 yards, but a Robinson fumble negated the first down.
• Another third-down throw against the Orange resulted in a Lions' first down via a pass interference penalty.
• Two other Hackenberg third-down completions got Penn State to within 2 yards of the sticks, leading to successful fourth-down attempts. (Despite their horrid third-down numbers, the Lions are the best team in the country at converting fourth downs: 4 for 4).
That means that during 6 of 15 dropbacks on third downs, Hackenberg has successfully enabled the Lions to — eventually, at least — earn a first down. That's a significantly rosier picture – albeit, that modified 40 percent proficiency still would rank in the bottom half of the country.
The average yards to go when Penn State has run a passing play on third downs is 9.1. The number is an average 9.2 yards-to-go on all Lions' third downs.
“We've got to get off to a better start on first down,” O'Brien said. “Whether it's a penalty to put us back or a lost yardage play, we've got too many where so now you're in second and long and you're already off-schedule. It's not a good thing.”
Penn State's offense has done the best it could after putting itself in such a precarious position by performing poorly on so many first and second downs. Counting the pass interference penalty, the Lions have advanced 122 yards on 27 third-down plays, an average of 4.5 per snap. To put that figure into perspective, Penn State's opponents are averaging 3.2 yards on all downs.
Assistant head coach/wide receivers coach Stan Hixon said third-down situations are stressed in practice. But like most relievers in baseball will tell you, the ninth inning is different than pitching any other inning. Executing when the stakes are higher on third down sometimes isn't as easy as it is on a less-to-lose first or second down.
“You know it's a down you've really got to capitalize on,” guard Miles Dieffenbach said. “You've got to win the third-down battle — it's a very important aspect of the game. It really separates you from winning big or losing.”
Note: The winner of next season's Central Florida-Penn State game played Aug. 30 in Dublin, Ireland, will receive the Dan Rooney Trophy. Rooney is the Steelers' chairman and a former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins acquire defensemen Lovejoy, Cole in deadline deals
- No tag for Worilds; Steelers cut Moore
- Just for Giggles, FBI tags along, finds more than sports paraphernalia at Pittsburgh store
- Steelers release WR Lance Moore
- Arrogant media elites mock Middle America
- Pirates notebook: Hart ‘down a few days’ after cutting foot
- DA’s office examining complaint history of Strip District club
- Police say teen driver was drinking in Butler ATV crash that killed passenger
- Lawmakers press Veterans Affairs for improved access to rural health care
- Sestak to kick off U.S. Senate campaign
- Monday - March 2, 2015