Stats didn’t tell whole PSU story

UNIVERSITY PARK –Stats can help tell the tale of how a game was won or lost, but they can also be misleading.

For instance, in Penn State’s week two matchup with Pittsburgh, the Panthers outplayed and outlasted the Nittany Lions in a majority of the leading offensive categories.

Pitt ran 86 total plays –including 16 on its final possession of the first half — compared to Penn State’s 52. Within that stretch of plays, the Panthers racked up 342 total yards of offense. Of those 342, Pitt ran the ball for 199 yards on 45 carries and passed for 143 yards on 24 receptions. The Panthers attempted 41 passes.

All of those numbers are higher than what Penn State recorded.

The Nittany Lions totaled 312 yards (139 passing, 173 rushing). Quarterback Trace McSorley went 14-of-28 behind center and the Lions ran the ball 24 times.

Penn State had three offensive series go three-and-out and had a pair of drives end in two or fewer snaps due to quick scoring plays.

Penn State coach James Franklin acknowledged the team’s defense was in action a large amount of the time — 38 minutes, 20 seconds to be exact.

“Our defense … was on the field a lot, but they really were able to hold them to field goals for most of the game, created some turnovers, and we played a lot of guys again,” he said.

Of course, the game has changed a lot even in the last decade thanks in large part to uptempo offensive schemes schools like Oregon and Baylor have implemented to keep defenses off balance by not having time to draw up a play and have the right personnel on the field for the situation at hand.

Penn State has shown it can go no-huddle on offense, and does have the luxury of McSorely, a dual-threat QB, and running back Saquon Barkley to create explosive plays (pass of 15 yards or run of 12 yards) at any given point of a game. That helps keep opposing defenses at bay and make time of possession a thing of the past at the collegiate level.

“The game has changed and I think time of possession is a stat that people used to look at for a long time and was a major factor in wins and losses,” Franklin said. “I don’t think it is as much of a factor anymore with these teams that are playing this style of offense. They’re winning a high percentage of games, and losing time of possession.”

Another major factor behind Penn State’s success despite not running nearly as many plays or having the ball as long is its special teams.

The Panthers started with the ball inside their own 20-yard line seven times. Four of those occurances came within Pitt’s 10-yard line.

It’s obvious that type of field position bodes well for the Nittany Lions as they went out and played bend-but-don’t-break defense giving Pitt some open areas to work with, but not allowing the big scoring plays to happen. That goes to show why Pitt had more first downs (24-14) than Penn State as well.

“Special teams is probably the area right now, just watching the game, that I thought we played our best,” Franklin said. “We talked No. 10 (Panthers’ Quadree Henderson) being a major factor in this game. He could have been a game-wrecker, and we wanted to limit the impact he could have … I thought that had a lot to do with our punting, our location and our hang time, but probably more so about our coverage units.”