In Saturday's 26-19 win over Purdue the Nittany Lions had an opening meltdown in kickoff coverage as Dorian Bryant busted open a return for a touchdown, putting the Boilermakers up 6-0 within the first minute of play. See the play at the beginning of the video recap below:
To start out the coverage, Penn State's 11 players were lined up appropriately within their lanes. The key to good return coverage is containment, where the unit "squeezes" the runner to a sideline so the unit can converge on him. However, in order to be effective, the players have to remain disciplined in their routes and remain spread out relative to the directional shifts the runner makes. This is to avoid any major running gaps for the return man to hit for a significant pickup.
In this situation, the coverage formation starts out fine, however, a few issues create an opportunity for Bryant. First, the left side of PSU's coverage unit pulls right early, leaving a third of the field wide open. Second, several of the players (as many as five) lose control of their routes and overpursue the target and are out of the play by the time they hit the Purdue 20-yard line. This essentially removes 45 percent of PSU's coverage on the play. Finally, an opportune uncalled block in the back takes out one would-be tackler and trips up a second nearby.
Bryant accelerates through the lane, sees the right wing gap and has plenty of room to run. Kicker Kevin Kelly refuses to quit on the run, trying to squeeze Bryant out of bounds, but struggles against the angle to reach him and is left in the dust as Bryant scampers to the end zone.
The key to the play's success, regardless of the block in the back, is the lack of discipline the unit has in abandoning its assigned lanes and overpursuing the ball carrier. Bryant makes a nice run, but is not required to make any significant moves to escape the pressure, other than a quick cut wide to the right wing, which is an open runway for him.
Purdue's wedge is not even that effective on the play, but the fact that nearly half of PSU's defenders bypass the play by the 20-yard line gives the Boilers a significant edge in opening up the lane for Bryant to hit.
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