PSU Playbook: Broken Coverage

Get a closer look at Purdue's opening kickoff touchdown return by Dorian Bryant, which put the Boilers up 6-0 over Penn State in the opening minute of play in last weekend's game.

One of the most intriguing and entertaining aspects of the Football Fantasy Camp at Penn State is having the ability to dig into PSU's playbook and learn about the schemes, formations and play variations the Nittany Lions run from the coaches themselves, like Larry Johnson, Galen Hall, Jay Paterno and Brian Norwood. Periodically this season we'll take a closer look at the inner workings of specific plays or schemes PSU runs to help provide understanding of the plays and give you just a taste of what you can experience and learn from the staff at Fantasy Football Camp.

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.

Get an entirely new view and appreciation of the Penn State games by attending Penn State Fantasy Football Camp; the only way you can learn the playbook from the Penn State coaches without making the team. It's the perfect holiday gift for the die hard Penn Stater.

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Questions about the camp? Contact Patrick Steenberge, Camp Director, at

Catch other features in our PSU Playbook series:

  • Derrick William's End-Around TD
  • Maurice Evan's Fumble Return
  • Deon Butler's Touchdown Strike


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