COLUMBUS, Ohio--Penn State's offense hasn't offered many "shock and awe" moments in 2011, but six plays into the Nittany Lions' 20-14 win against Ohio State on Saturday at Ohio Stadium, they brought fireworks to their attack with a play call few saw coming.
On 2nd-and-6 with the ball at the Ohio State 39-yardline, wide receiver Curtis Drake trotted out to fill quarterback Matthew McGloin's place under center in a wildcat formation. The sophomore took direct snap and handed the ball off to senior running back Stephfon Green, who blazed his way through a baffled Ohio State defense for a 39-yard touchdown rush that staked Penn State to a lead it would hold until the final gun.
The unusual formation blindsided Buckeye defenders ahead of the play, and before they knew what was happening, Green was celebrating in the endzone after cutting up right through the heart of the Ohio State defense.
"[The wildcat] just spreads people out," Green said after the game. "You don't know who's going to get the ball. My number was called, and I just did what I had to do with it."
Green's early touchdown run foreshadowed success Penn State would have on the ground all day long out of the wildcat. The senior tailback scored again later in the first half, and used the extra space to lead the Lions with 93 yards on 16 carries, part of a 239-yard rushing assault utilized by Penn State in its victory.
Saturday's game marked the first time Penn State has run the formation consistently this season, but while its appearance was a surprise to those on the outside, coach Tom Bradley said it's a trick the offense has had up its sleeve for weeks now.
"I had seen [Bill] Belton run [the wildcat]," Bradley said after the game. "He was our Nebraska scout team quarterback and I'd asked the offense to put it in because I had just seen it for 10 days torch us."
Belton, a freshman, ran a similar offense in high school according to Bradley, and the coach said it was an easy decision to deploy the package as a change of pace for the offensive unit. Belton finished with 15 yards on four carries, but his numbers were modest in comparison with some of his teammates.
The huge holes opened by the formation were there seemingly all day. Two drives after Green's big run, fellow back Silas Redd hit the hole for a 42-yard jaunt. Two drives after that, Drake cut up field and gain a 38-yard gain. Redd finished with 63 yards on eight carries and Drake had a whopping 50 on just three attempts.
Co-offensive coordinator Galen Hall said the formation would have been implemented earlier, but Drake's injury in the preseason hampered those efforts. With Drake healthy, though, the offense has a couple of athletes that make the package viable.
Now, Penn State will prepare for its de facto Big Ten Leaders Division title game with a new wrinkle in its previously stagnant offense. Bradley said he isn't concerned that the Lions had shown too much against Ohio State, and the plan seems to be to implement the set again in the clash with the Badgers.
"We recommended it and Tom said 'Ok let's go,'" Hall said. "Hopefully next week, we can have some more."