PSU Playbook: "Big Boy" Package

With an impressive drive from its own 1-yard line to the PSU 1 in the fourth quarter, Texas A&M threatened to tie up the Alamo Bowl. But on fourth and goal, the Nittany Lions snuffed out the option right scheme. How did they do it? Get a closer look at PSU's "Big Boy" goal-line package.

In the fourth quarter of the Alamo Bowl, Texas A&M mounted perhaps its most impressive drive of the game, going 98 yards from its own 1-yard line down to the PSU 1-yard line. On fourth down, quarterback Stephen McGee went option right and slipped just before being creamed by Lion linebacker Bani Gbadyu.

Gbadyu was in for one of the PSU cornerbacks in the team's "Big Boy" package. In the basic set PSU's defense maintains its four down linemen — in this case, left to right the line was made up of Maurice Evans (DE, No. 48), Ollie Ogbu (DT, No. 85), Phillip Taylor (DT, No. 90) and Josh Gaines (DE, No. 47).

The defense also maintains a base of three linebackers; in this situation Dan Connor (LB, No. 40), Sean Lee (Lb, No. 45) and Josh Hull (LB, No. 43). However the staff inserts a fourth linebacker in place of a cornerback who is pulled from the package. In this case Bani Gbadyu is that fourth 'backer.

What is interesting though is that the linebacker positions shift a bit. Connor, who is normally in the middle, is now on the outside wing, but playing tight to the end, with Gbadyu and Lee on the inside and Hull on the opposite wing, lined up tight to Gaines' left.

The remaining three positions in the formation are defensive backs; Anthony Scirrotto (S, No. 7), Mark Rubin (S, No. 9) and Tony Davis (S, No. 11). Scirrotto and Rubin play out on the wings and are focused on lateral containment and any situations where a passing target breaks out into the flat. Davis plays up on the line, to the right of Evans. His role is to apply pressure.

The formation was designed to provide "mobile size" on the goal line, particularly against a team that depended on its speed more than its size. As one observer explained of the formation, "[The set] has quick, physical players who can swing as the play develops, but can also muscle and knife into the backfield when needed. This is for plays in tight space, so there's some improvisation; a lot of read-react."

Here is how the formation was initially set:

Penn State had the odds stacked in its favor in that McGee (QB, No. 7), was going to roll right on the snap. First, that was the open side of the field; second, he ran right on nearly ever play during the course of the game.

A&M came out in a broken I-formation, with Michael Goodson (RB, No. 3) as the deep back and Chris Alexander (RB, No. 24) and Ervin Taylor (WR, No. 2) up in the backfield set. On the snap, the play immediately shifted right, with McGee carrying the ball. Taylor sharply pulled right, while Alexander pulled up to the right. Goodson stayed deep to serve as the pitch man on the option play.

PSU's front four and Hull engaged the Aggie seven-man front, while Rubin, Lee, Gbadyu and Connor all pulled left to mirror the Aggies' right option and contain the play. The key was that Hull quickly engaged his assignment and shed the block, providing Lee room to run and helping to swing McGee wide after he after he looked to cut inside toward the end zone.

At that point Gbadyu (No. 15) was in pursuit and managed to steer clear of the player Hull had shed, although he could have easily been taken out of the play with one wrong step.

Goodson continued to cut wide as the pitch man. Neither Alexander nor Taylor attempted to engage Lee or Rubin at that stage.

Finally Alexander engaged Lee and Taylor engaged Rubin in an attempt to open up a touchdown-scoring lane for McGee or Goodson. However, Gbadyu (No. 15) broke into the play and McGee was stopped in his tracks and had to evade the PSU 'backer. Hull (No. 43) was focused on Goodson, given that he was serving as McGee's pitch option once Gbadyu disrupted the play.

McGee spun causing Gbadyu to overpursue, but in the process, lost his footing. At that stage, the play was blown up; Goodson was out of the frame and was no help to McGee. Seeing that, Hull shifted his attention back to McGee and Connor was at the goal line serving as the backup calvary.

At that point McGee's inertia took him to the carpet and the play was dead, resulting in a major turnover on downs for PSU and a significant momentum shift that carried the Lions to victory.

The Big Boy package came up big.

See other breakdowns in our PSU Playbook series:

  • Texas A&M: Royster's TD Run
  • Michigan State: Spartan TD Strike
  • Temple: Kinlaw Screen
  • Purdue: Broken Kick Coverage
  • Purdue: William's End-Around
  • Indiana: Evan's Fumble Return
  • Wisconsin: Butler's Touchdown Strike
  • Notre Dame: DWill's Punt Return


  • Fight On State Top Stories