The remote may as well be molded perfectly to Chris Godwin’s hand.
He’s in the wide receivers room at Penn State’s Lasch building, a mostly-bare setup save for a few photos of professional players framed around the perimeter, cafeteria-style tables and cushy swivel chairs and a 10-foot-wide projector screen.
Godwin sits in the second row with the remote, a simple toggle-button getup hooked to a projector. Penn State video coordinator Jevin Stone has a handful of film cut-ups from practice and old games compiled together and the receiver flips through them one by one. He is meticulous and detailed, and yes, he has seen these clips hundreds of times. Still, he finds tweaks; loses his train of thought at times as he begins to describe the film because he’s making mental notes for his own use.
It’s my first day of wide receiver school, and class is in session.
We’re keeping it simple — it’s July and Godwin has delved into film of both spring ball and of Fordham, to better understand offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead’s scheme and expectations of his wideouts — but we are watching simple post routes, “go” routes and practice drills.
The players do it too, he explains. Every practice is taped and broken down; every drill is considered. In the offseason, Godwin watches film a few times a week on his school-issued iPad, but come fall he and his teammates are analyzing film every day.
“I’m very critical of myself. I know where I want to be. I know where I want to get to and I understand I’m not at that point (yet),” he says, seriously. “So when I’m watching film I try to be as hard on myself as possible so that I don’t repeat the same mistakes I did before. And I feel like if I’m not repeating the same mistakes, if I’m learning from my mistakes and previous practices then I’m getting better.
“And if I’m getting better, I’m constantly taking steps toward where I want to be.”
Even down to the basic separation drills?
“Alright, so here is a one-on-one drill,” he says, as an answer. He’s up against a scout-team defensive back inside Holuba Hall.
“The first thing I typically do when I come to the line of scrimmage is I line up and I’m checking the leverage of the defensive back,” he said. “I’m trying to determine if he’s inside leverage, if he’s press-technique, and typically how aggressive he’s appearing to be. The amount of aggression he shows will determine the type of release I’ll take.”
He adds that it usually takes one series for a defensive back and a receiver to “feel each other out” in terms of the style of the particular dance they’ll do that day.
“You don’t want to get too much contact or too much collision from the defensive back. Some of them have ‘tells.’ Some of the smarter corners, they’ll try to disguise as much as possible. So right here ...” he points the laser end of the remote at the defensive back.
“ ... He is probably a yard from me. So I know that while he’s still pressing me, that he’s not really going to, what we call ‘press-step,’ meaning he’s not going to lunge at me and put his hands on me. So coming off the ball I know I can just give him a couple of moves, swipe his hands down, and then I’m pressing back into the stack.”
He fast-forwards until he’s about five yards from scrimmage.
“Right here I’m going to lean back into his body to try to get on top of him, essentially,” he says. “So that when the ball is in the air, it’s either going to be a completion or be a pass interference because he has to come through me.
“At that point, (the defensive back) knows he’s beat. It takes five yards. He’s like, ‘Alright, I gotta go,’ and he’s playing catch-up. And then I just let the ball drop outside my shoulder.”
He takes me through a few more minutes of drills, offering little tidbits as he does so. Hand-to-hand combat at the line of scrimmage. Sticking the post; watching feet over hands — using hands to lie about feet. Leaning in to wreck a coverage cushion; stepping back outside to force one of his own. Hesitation moves, stutter-steps, ball tracking. Shielding the ball with his body to the outside shoulder. All of it matters, especially to the incredibly detail-oriented Godwin.
We watch a simple post pattern.
“Based on his leverage, I’m expecting him to shoot one of his hands on me,” says Godwin. “Once I see he’s not, he’s in what we call a ‘motor technique.’ So he’s going to back off, he’s going to try to defeat me with his body as opposed to his hands.
“Typically on a post pattern you want to win inside at the line of scrimmage so that the defensive back is not in a position to make the play. So that’s what I do, I get a move to stem inside of him, I rip my arm through here to get his arm off of me, and then I can lean back out. At this point, he’s just guessing.”
He’s expecting Godwin to run a dig route because he’s on the inside of him, meaning he’d cut on a dime inside and run parallel to the line of scrimmage for a potential short gain.
“But instead, as soon as I rip through, I lean back out and now he thinks I’m running a ‘go’ route (straight downfield). And then I stick the post, now I’m just running free. I’m letting the ball drop and he can’t do anything because my body is in the way.”
Last among the cut-ups is former quarterback Christian Hackenberg’s 72-yard touchdown bomb to Godwin in the 2014 Pinstripe Bowl, the catch that put the now-junior receiver on the map and paved the way for his 1,101 yards on 69 receptions in 2015.
It’s a “go” route, straight down the field. Pass and catch, backyard-style right? Simple as that, I joke to myself, antsy after only 30 minutes of this.
Wrong. I’m reminded — patiently — of the first drill we watched. So much of the dance in the route occurs even before Godwin is five yards downfield.
“First, I know I’m running a ‘go’ route. I realize, based on the (other) safety, that there is nobody else behind him to help out and stop me on the route,” he said. “So from the beginning, I’m just trying to give him some type of move to slow him down. He was a different type of cornerback, so he opened up and was going to run regardless because he knew he didn’t have any help behind him. He starts off a little bit further back. And from the snap, he starts to kind of open up and run before I go.
“From that point I knew I had to break his cushion. When we say that, we mean get as close as possible, force him inside so we can cut outside. I gave him a little stick, hesitation inside, remove his arms (as a factor).
“Then I can track the ball outside. Now I’ve just got to finish the play.”
As he does so, the Boston College corner, two steps behind Godwin, dives for his legs and the receiver high-kicks them through his outstretched arms.
“You can feel them when they know they’re beat,” Godwin says. “That’s when they’ll do a jersey tug, or force contact to even get a pass interference call. … They’re just trying to not give up the touchdown.”
He rewinds, plays again. The defensive back flops backward up off the ground, backpedals, then hits the ground as Godwin fast-forwards. Up, down. Up, down and again as the receiver high-steps out of his reach into the end zone, the hapless corner hitting the ground repeatedly in fast-forward and rewind; a marionette and Godwin has the strings hooked up to the remote.
Penn State-Michigan Game Day Breakdown
Who: Penn State Nittany Lions (2-1) vs. No. 4 Michigan Wolverines (3-0)
When: 3:30 p.m.
Where: The Big House, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Series: 12-7, Michigan leads
Radio: 93.7 FM/1450 AM
Tips to Win
For Penn State: Contain Jabrill Peppers. The linebacker/receiver/running back/kick and punt returner is joined by a slew of dynamic players on offense and defense, but it would be a big step in the right direction for Penn State to render him ineffective.
For Michigan: Dare Penn State to beat them in the air. Penn State running back Saquon Barkley has emerged as one of the nation’s biggest threats in the run game, so stuffing the box to stop the run and relying on one of the nation’s best secondaries to defend the Nittany Lions’ talented receiving corps could be key for the Wolverines.
Players to Watch
For Penn State: Quarterback Trace McSorley. The redshirt sophomore will start his first-ever Big Ten game, and in one of the most hostile environments possible. Assuming Michigan will try to limit the run, McSorley’s toughest test as Penn State’s new arm will be Saturday against the Wolverines’ secondary.
For Michigan: Athlete Jabrill Peppers. The hybrid player is already on the way-too-early Heisman radar as one of the best athletes in the nation, and Penn State fans won’t have to wait to see him — he will play in all three phases on Saturday.