Penn State v Northwestern
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Last week, Penn State coach James Franklin made some comments during his weekly press conference about scheduling.  His remarks captured plenty of attention, mainly because they were perceived as a shot at Michigan's nonconference slate. But it was another question posed to Franklin during that press conference which garnered a reaction I found a lot more entertaining, if not as spicy.

Franklin was asked whether he and No. 6 Penn State would ever tell Drew Allar to say "screw it" and chuck the ball downfield. His answer was great.

Once you get past the amusement factor, though, two aspects of the exchange are at odds with one another while both are legitimate. The first is the idea of a coach telling his QB, "just chuck it down there and hope for the best!" is a wild idea and an odd question in nature. At the same time, having watched Penn State's offense this year, it's a perfectly reasonable question! Penn State's passing attack is taking dink-and-dunk to extremes.

The Big Ten gets hit with the stereotype of being conservative with its passing games, but look at Penn State's approach compared to the rest of the conference. An air yard is the number of yards a pass travels beyond the line of scrimmage. Average air yards to the sticks are the number of air yards in relation to the first down marker. A yard past the first down line would be +1 and two yards in front of it would be -2.


Look where the Nittany Lions are in relation to the rest of the league. Now, look at where they are in relation to Iowa. As a team, Penn State averages 6.4 air yards per attempt, 1.2 yards fewer than the next lowest team in the Big Ten (Wisconsin). Their average of -2.2 AY to the sticks is nearly a full yard behind Northwestern's -1.3.

Drew Allar's 6.9 yards per attempt ranks 83rd nationally among 113 qualified passers. His 6.3 air yards per attempt ranks 108th.

Why is Penn State being so cautious? There are a few possible reasons. One is that it protects the football, and with a defense as good as Penn State's, the Nittany Lions don't need to be overly aggressive in the passing attack to win. Allar hasn't thrown an interception this year and his Whoopsy Daisy Rate (fumbles and interceptions divided by snaps) of 0.26% is the best in the nation. It's also possible Penn State doesn't trust that they have the playmakers at receiver capable of pushing the ball vertically effectively enough to try it.

There's another possibility worth considering, however: Perhaps Penn State hasn't felt the need to do so. The Nittany Lions haven't played an offense worth being scared of this season. Their five FBS wins have come against West Virginia, Illinois, Iowa, Northwestern and UMass. If you had to bet your life on one of those teams scoring 30 points in a game, who are you taking?

That changes this week with a trip to No. 3 Ohio State, and there were signs that Penn State may be ramping things up during their 63-0 win over UMass on Saturday. Yes, it's UMass, but I don't think it's a coincidence that Allar averaged 9.5 air yards per attempt in the game after never averaging more than 7.4 in any game beforehand. And the game he averaged 7.4 was Penn State's previous matchup against Northwestern. Allar attempted 10 passes of at least 15 air yards in those two games after totaling 13 such attempts in Penn State's first four games.

Penn State can't rely on its defense being great to beat Ohio State, and maybe this is the week it takes the training wheels off Allar, which could work to the Nittany Lions' benefit. Allar may not throw deep often, but he's been effective when he does. While not at elite levels, his completion rate, passing efficiency and touchdown rates are above the national average on throws of at least 10 air yards.

Sing us a song, Schiano man

Jim Harbaugh may be en route to his third straight Big Ten title and College Football Playoff appearance. Perhaps Ryan Day will get the Michigan monkey off his back and win the Big Ten again. Maybe James Franklin will topple them both! We don't know what will happen.

But, I'm fairly confident that no matter the outcome between those three, they've already lost the race to win the Big Ten's Coach of the Year Award. We can start etching Greg Schiano's name on that trophy.

You might not have noticed, but Rutgers erased a 24-6 deficit with 21 fourth-quarter points against Michigan State in Saturday's 27-24 win while improving to 5-2 on the season and 2-2 in the Big Ten. And the Knights still have games left against Indiana, Iowa and Maryland. It's almost certain the Knights will go bowling in 2023 and are in the midst of their best season since Schiano's return.

It hasn't been an easy ride, but it also hasn't been too dissimilar from Schiano's first go-round with Rutgers in the Big East days. The Knights went 12-34 in his first four seasons before a breakthrough of 7-5 in his fifth season. The following year, in 2006, Rutgers went 11-2 and went to a bowl game five times in six years before he left for the NFL.

I don't see any 11-win seasons in my crystal ball, but after seeming lost in the Big Ten wilderness since joining the league, Rutgers looks to have found its footing on the basketball court and football field.

Sparty is on Quit Watch

Michigan State announced it was suspending Mel Tucker on Sept. 10. Six days later, it was crushed 41-7 against Washington. Not much has changed on the field since. The Spartans are 0-4 since removing Tucker, losing by an average of 17.25 points per game. Two of the losses have come to Maryland and Rutgers, division rivals the Spartans typically rely on for wins while competing for bowl eligibility.

The Rutgers loss has me concerned the bottom could fall out soon. It's one thing to lose to Rutgers. It's another to blow an 18-point fourth-quarter lead in the process. This week, the Spartans host rival Michigan. If the Wolverines do to them what they've done to everybody else, I won't be shocked to see the Spartans go winless in the Big Ten.

At least Michigan State fans can look forward to basketball season. 

Gut reads of the week

Every week I pick every Big Ten game against the spread based on nothing but my gut reaction to the number. No digging into numbers, just vibes, baby. I even track my record to embarrass myself publicly. Odds via SportsLine consensus.

No. 7 Penn State at No. 3 Ohio State: I genuinely have no idea here. Both teams are undefeated but have left me wanting a little more from each. I've already written a bunch of words about how conservative Penn State's passing attack has been, but while I suspect they open things up here, I don't know they will. Then there's Ohio State, which seems perpetually banged up on offense and far too reliant on Marvin Harrison Jr. What happens if Penn State's defense is capable of forcing Ohio State to find another route on offense? It's times like these when I simply shrug and take the underdog. Penn State +4.5

  • Rutgers at Indiana -- Indiana +5
  • Minnesota at No. 24 Iowa -- Iowa -5
  • Wisconsin at Illinois -- Illinois +2.5
  • Northwestern at Nebraska -- Nebraska -12.5
  • No. 2 Michigan at Michigan State -- Michigan -24.5

Last Week: 3-3
Season: 11-13-1