Anatomy of a Punt Return

See an exclusive photo-by-photo breakdown of how Derrick Williams and friends scored against Notre Dame. The play may only have taken a few seconds to complete, but an awful lot happened between the time Williams caught the ball and when he crossed the goal line.

Penn State was trailing Notre Dame 7-0 late in the first quarter of Saturday's game at Beaver Stadium. After a lackluster first 14 minutes, the Nittany Lions were in need of a big play.

And junior Derrick Williams provided it in the form of a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown. At least that is what you read in the papers Sunday morning.

Because while Williams was indeed at the center of the play in question, it was hardly a one-man effort. Check out the following series of “on-high” photos from FOS to see how Penn State's punt-return unit functions as a team.

Upon close examination, you will see that what seems like a mad scramble is actually a well-choreographed exercise. The play has since been nominated for this week's Pontiac Game Changing Performance award. Here is how it unfolded.

1.) Most good punt returns start with the return man making someone miss. Williams ducks away from Notre Dame's Terrail Lambert (20) here. Knowledge Timmons (21) wisely avoids blocking in the back.

2.) The first big block is from Anthony Scirrotto (7), who knocks David Bruton (27) off his pursuit angle.

3.) Williams begins to set up another good move. Evan Royster (22) makes sure to engage his man from the front to avoid a clipping penalty.

4.) With help from Royster and a quick cut, Williams gets past two more men. But trouble looms in the form of Maurice Crum (40). Note Lion Mark Rubin (9) engaging Notre Dame's Anthony Vernaglia (54) in the lower right corner of this image. The two will get to know one another well on this play. Also note PSU's Matt Hahn (34) rushing back to the action.

5.) Hahn gets just enough of Crum for Williams to spring free. The Rubin-Vernaglia battle is just heating up.

6.) Williams jukes Tom Zbikowski to gain more running room. But don't expect the All-American from Notre Dame to give up. Will Yeatman (84) looks like he has an angle coming in from the top of the frame.

7.) Upon further review, Yeatman does not have an angle. You can pick up your jock strap at lost and found, Mr. Yeatman. Zbikowski is beginning to recover. No lame jokes about him. Check out Tony Davis (11) and A.J. Wallace (12) sprinting to help Williams.

8.) This is amazing stuff. With the play at full speed, Davis and Wallace split, creating an opening for Williams. He actually backtracks so he can get through it and let his blockers do their thing. Also, check out Navorro Bowman (18) taking punter Geoff Price (17) out of the play — for now — down in the bottom right of the frame. And look at Zbikowski taking advantage of Williams' backtracking to get himself right back into the play (near the 40-yard line indicator).

9). Wallace, a 193-pounder, easily disposes of 253-pound linebacker John Ryan (90). Williams patiently weaves between Davis and Wallace. Looks like Zbikowski has another angle.

10.) The procession continues. Hey, Rubin (9) and Vernaglia (54) are back in the picture.

11.) Having encountered no interference since he was initially faked out, Zbikowski charges to the head of the pack. Rubin sprints to get ahead of Vernaglia. PSU's Josh Hull (43) hustles into the action.

12.) Williams doubles back between Davis and Wallace again. This time, to avoid Zbikowski. Then Williams stops to let his blockade move ahead. Wallace avoids blocking Zbikowski in the back.

13.) Zbikowski goes for the tackle and…

14.) …whiffs. Mr. Zbikowski, your jock strap can be picked up at lost and found. Rubin engages Vernaglia again, keeping his hands in while blocking.

15). While all this is going on, Price (17) scrambles back into the play. Almost instinctively, Davis and Wallace give Williams yet another gap between them.

16.) Williams splits his two teammates AGAIN. Look at Davis (11) holding up to let Williams pass by him, with his eyes focused on Price the whole time. Bani Gbadyu (15) hustles back in case help is needed. But it is not.

17.) Davis and Williams easily handle Price and Williams heads for the end zone.

18.) The play is over. The celebration begins.

19.) Appropriately, Williams' blockers all join in.


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