Clash of styles in Big 10 ti­tle game

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Travis John­son

STATE COL­LEGE >> When James Franklin looks at the num­bers, he can’t help but won­der how many times his of­fense will get the ball against Wis­con­sin.

The No. 6 Badgers (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten, No. 6 CFP) have limited op­po­nents all sea­son by set­ting a me­thod­i­cal pace with a grind­ing, phys­i­cal run­ning game. Wis­con­sin leads the na­tion in time of pos­ses­sion.

“It af­fects how of­fenses are be­cause they’re wor­ried about how many pos­ses­sions they’re go­ing to get, start to change how they call the game as well,” Franklin said Tues­day. “That does have a big ef­fect.”

The No. 8 Nit­tany Li­ons (102, 8-1, No. 7 CFP) take a dif­fer­ent ap­proach into Satur­day’s Big Ten cham­pi­onship game.

Franklin knows his of­fense doesn’t need much time to rack up

points. Penn State’s coach has learned to value ex­plo­sive plays over all other as­pects since of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Joe Moor­head in­stalled a new, no-hud­dle scheme.

Just as Wis­con­sin’s plod­ding, keep-away strat­egy has helped the Badgers post a na­tional best 35:12 per game in pos­ses­sion time, Penn State’s big-play of­fense has made de­fense af­ter de­fense pay. The Nit­tany Li­ons lead the Big Ten and are tied for sev­enth in the coun­try with 80 plays of 20 yards or more.

The ex­plo­sive plays, in­clud­ing 57 through the air, have helped Penn State score just over 36 points per game. Quar­ter­back Trace McSor­ley, al­ways will­ing to give his re­ceivers a chance at a 50-50 ball, has been the trig­ger-man on many of them.

“He makes a lot of plays,” Wis­con­sin coach Paul Chryst said. “Cer­tainly push­ing the ball down the field, but it looks to me like he loves play­ing the game and he com­petes and has a great en­ergy about him. I liked watch­ing him un­til this week get­ting ready to play him, but looks like a heck of a quar­ter­back.”

McSor­ley has of­ten de­scribed Penn State’s of­fense as up-tempo. That’s ac­cu­rate in the way the Nit­tany Li­ons at­tack. But their ap­proach is ac­tu­ally much more me­thod­i­cal than pos­ses­sion num­bers might in­di­cate and McSor­ley’s been at the fore­front of a pa­tient process.

Not only is Penn State mak­ing sec­ond half ad­just­ments that yield more big plays, McSor­ley has proved him­self as a game-man­ager. Although the Nit­tany Li­ons don’t hud­dle, they spend a lot of time at the line of scrim­mage as McSor­ley sur­veys the de­fense, then looks to the side­line for Moor­head’s sig­nals af­ter

he’s had a chance to do the same. The Nit­tany Li­ons are us­ing an av­er­age of 30 sec­onds of play clock be­tween each snap the last two games.

“It’s huge there be­cause you have to be able to see the play call and the sig­nals and then re­lay the in­for­ma­tion that’s nec­es­sary to peo­ple that need to know, our of­fen­sive line and mak­ing sure everyone’s on the same page,” McSor­ley said. “I think it’s def­i­nitely helped the quar­ter­backs and my­self ma­ture.”

With so much go­ing on be­fore each snap, the game has slowed down for McSor­ley. He’s not mak­ing the mis­takes or mis­read­ing cov­er­ages like he did at times ear­lier this sea­son and was nearly perfect af­ter tak­ing time to survey Michi­gan State’s de­fen­sive align­ment last week. Then, he com­pleted 12 of 15 passes for 245 yards and three touch­downs against the blitz. His in­com­ple­tions against ex­tra-man pres­sures were throw­aways to avoid sacks and a drop from one of his re­ceivers.

“I know hud­dles are a bad word around here now, but I think quar­ter­backs al­ways have to be re­ally en­gaged in run­ning the show,” Franklin said. “I think Trace has done a re­ally, re­ally good job of that.”

CHRIS KNIGHT » THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Penn State’s Saquon Barkley dives over the pile for a touch­down against Michi­gan State on Satur­day.

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