The idea of an up-tempo, no-huddle offense is to gas the opponent, to take the defense out of rhythm, to play with their heads.
The offense is looking to put the defense on its heels and be reactionary.
That was Indiana’s aim Saturday afternoon at Beaver Stadium, to control the game by running one play just a few seconds after the last one ended.
So what was Penn State’s answer?
The “no-huddle” defense.
“Whenever we got done with the play, we were going to be at the line before them, waiting for them,” defensive tackle Austin Johnson said. “We got the call and kept on lining up.”
The Hoosier receivers would trot back to the line, the quarterback would get the call from the sideline and signal his teammates, they would scatter to their positions with better than 20 seconds left in the play clock and — the Nittany Lions were already in position, asking, ‘What took you so long?”
“They tried to go fast, but we were there,” safety Marcus Allen said. “We were right out there ready for them to go.”
The Penn State defense has come up big nearly every week this season, and Saturday was no exception in a 29-7 victory over Indiana, extending the team’s win streak to five straight.
Indiana entered the game with a stellar offense, leading the Big Ten and ranking 19 th nationally in average yards per game (498), while also leading the conference in scoring (36 points per game), sitting second in passing offense (273 yards per game) and third in rushing offense (224).
Tempo is a big reason for the success, as the Hoosiers run 87.8 plays per game. They ran 92 plays against Ohio State last week.
However, the Nittany Lions were prepared, and saw the positives in that style of offense.
“The tempo simplifies you in some ways,” head coach James Franklin said. “We didn’t try to get too complex, and allow our kids to play. I thought that really helped.”
They kept the Hoosiers bottled up with just 234 total yards on just 66 plays, and only 79 net yards on the ground.
The best part was all the three-and-outs for Indiana – 6 out of 15 possessions. When running that fast tempo, it meant there were times the ball was being punted back to Penn State just a minute after the Hoosiers got it. Only three possessions lasted longer than 101 seconds.
“Most important thing is stop the run,” Bell said. “It’s our focus every week. First thing on the board – stop the run, make them one-dimensional.”
To do that, they had to have their own no-huddle defense ready to roll.
That’s what defensive coordinator Bob Shoop was telling the team during the week, saying it was the first time a defense would be that way.
It started with being ready and waiting at the line.
“In the psychological aspect,” linebacker Jason Cabinda said, “when you’re running a tempo offense and the defense is right there, set, ready to go, hands in the dirt ready to go, that messes with their head a lot. It makes them feel like what they’re trying to accomplish isn’t getting accomplished.”
There might have been a little additional mental anguish afflicted in other ways.
“I know I was talking stuff to them,” Allen said. “I think we were (in their heads).”
Last season when Penn State was preparing for this style of offense, resulting in a 13-7 win, the Nittany Lions would be ready quickly, but had to wait for the defensive call from the sideline before lining up. This time, they got into position first, then looked for the call, according to Johnson.
It also helped to be infiltrating the Indiana backfield, getting a number of stops at or behind the line of scrimmage. The Hoosiers had given up just three sacks all season, but quarterbacks Zander Diamont and Danny Cameron were planted four times Saturday.
“We had to get sacks and (tackles for losses),” Johnson said. “Kind of slow them down so they couldn’t get back to the line and snap the ball right away”
The Hoosiers hadn’t scored fewer than 27 points all season, but had just one touchdown on the day.
That’s what happens when someone else — in this case the Nittany Lions — beats you at your own game.
“We matched their speed,” Bell said. “We were right there waiting for them.”