Nittany Notes: Spreading the Wealth

With all the talk about the spread offense at Penn State this spring, we take a closer look at some of the basics of what the Nittany Lions have been running.

The "HD Spread" is a term Penn State quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno has used while describing the Nittany Lions' offensive philosophy for 2008. While we're guessing only he can tell you exactly what it entails, we can give you a taste of what some of our program observers have seen this spring.

Jay Paterno


Penn State has run a variety of plays out of the shotgun in recent sessions. "The shotgun provides space for plays to develop and the [backfield] players to move," one observer explained. "But they have not been using the [shotgun] formation like they did with [former QB Anthony] Morelli — this isn't the burst-n-bomb type scheme where the wideouts run a fly [pattern] and the QB launches it and hopes they can pull it down."

As another observer said, "Without getting into too many 'state secrets,' this scheme is looking to leverage speed, misdirection and use the [offensive line] to open things up." Often, the staff will "flank the QB with speed on both sides," as one observer put it. This means putting a tailback on either side of the quarterback, rather than a standard tailback/fullback backfield.

The offense is said to run spread, split, unbalanced and option plays out of this formation. It also will run snaps under with the QB unser center, generally in single back or I-formations. However, through nine practices, more of a focus has been put on the shotgun.


"They are not asking Daryll [Clark] or Pat [Devlin] to air it out or pitch the 45-yard bombs," an observer said. "Although that's not to say they won't toss it in there. Neither of these guys have Morelli's arm, but they have more mobility to shift with the pocket and the ability to see the field better."

Daryll Clark

The quarterbacks have been "working on more intermediate routes that slant and cut." While observers say they are using the center of the flat more, they are quick to point out that the team tends to do this in practice annually, but that "Joe [Paterno] is often concerned about the traffic in the middle — he's worried that the [QB] has to pass through a maze of hands from the defensive line, linebackers and safeties — and one ricochet and it's an interception."

Pat Devlin

In this scheme, the quarterbacks are asked to "move more." According to another observer, "They are running more pocket shifts and rollouts. They toss in the option at times, but they are really looking for the quarterback to shift with the line and make reads on the routes and open space."

Offensive Line

As one observer said, "With a veteran [offensive] line, you have the experience and continuity of the linemen to get more smooth rolls and pulls to create a solid pocket that moves."

Dennis Landolt

The interior of the line is said to be the key to this. "If the entire line pulls right, let's say, that helps your right tackle, because that movement forces the left [defensive] end to compensate and makes his corner wider. But the key is the center's and the guards' abilities to keep that wall up and in motion to keep the [defensive] penetration away from the QB."

Running Backs

The running backs play an integral role in this scheme. "You'll see different combinations out there at times," an observer explained. "They'll thrown [Stephfon] Green and [Derrick] Williams out there to create a speed set, and the patterns they run are designed to create misdirection. Other times they'll throw in [Evan] Royster and he can create a cutback as the defense looks to Green or could get called on to set a block."

Evan Royster

"They also can run play-action out of [the set], where they fake the hand-off and the backs can both go right, left or split and become targets [for the QB]."


In this offense, receiver are running "less out patterns and more shift routes." As one observer said, "They still have to run a sideline streak at times, but that was a staple of the offense [with Morelli] because he was comfortable with it."

Deon Butler

This spring the receivers, including the tight ends, are running more "routes with a post or hitch or some directional shift," the observer said. "It plays to the strengths of the veterans, since Deon [Butler] and Jordan [Norwood] have a good handle on the playbook and run some pretty sharp routes." As an aside, Williams tends to split his time between playing in backfield and receiver, depending on the play.

Jordan Norwood

"They typically will go out to like 20 yards instead of 40 like last year," the observers said. "That seems to play more to the strengths of these QBs and also keeps [the receivers] in the play [to block] if the QB takes off on his feet."

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