The 2012 version of Penn State looks eerily similar to that of the New England Patriots. After all, Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien spent the last four years as an offensive coach for the Patriots.
Heading into the 2012 season, fans wondered if O'Brien's pro-style offense would transfer to the college level. Spread offenses and option attacks have seemed to take over the college world. Despite that, O'Brien was determined to make his New England offense work at Penn State.
After three games in 2012, the Lions are 1-2. However, the offense has improved each week, behind the growth of quarterback Matt McGloin. There has been a shift in Happy Valley from a run-first to a pass-first offense.
McGloin seems comfortable in the offense, throwing for 688 yards and eight touchdowns so far in 2012. So far, McGloin is the perfect fit for the pro-style passing attack that O'Brien has brought with him from New England.
Now, in no way is McGloin anywhere close to Tom Brady. However, a closer analysis of statistics reveals several similarities between the current Penn State team and the New England Patriots.
Like the New England Patriots, this Penn State team lacks a clear-cut No. 1 running back that can be relied on heavily. Therefore, both teams have to pass more than they run.
Penn State has averaged 30 rushes per game so far this year. Meanwhile, the 2011 Patriots averaged 27 rushing attempts per contest.
Through three games, McGloin has thrown 104 passes. In 2011, the combination of McGloin and Rob Bolden attempted 95 passes through the first three games. The transfer of star running back Silas Redd to USC has forced the 2012 Lions to rely more on the air attack.
In 2011, Tom Brady averaged 38 pass attempts per game. McGloin has averaged 35 passes per game in 2012. Like Brady, McGloin has been spreading the ball around, hitting at least seven different receivers in each of his first three games.
Of course, McGloin's play is not the only similarity between the two offenses.
Bill O'Brien was known in the NFL for using his tight ends as more than just blockers. Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski have become legitimate NFL superstars because of their involvement in the offense.
Penn State tight end Kyle Carter has wasted no time showing that he can be the big pass-catching tight end that O'Brien loves. Carter is the second leading receiver on the team with 11 catches for 120 yards and a touchdown.
Like he did in New England, O'Brien has shown a good mix of both short and downfield passes.
Wide receiver Allen Robinson (322 yards and four touchdowns) has become McGloin's downfield threat, much like Wes Welker and Dion Branch for Brady in New England.
Welker averaged 12.9 yards per catch in 2011, while Branch averaged 13.8 yards per catch. So far in 2012, Robinson is averaging 13.4 yards per catch for the Nittany Lions.
It is clearly a new era of Penn State football. The once "ground and pound" Nittany Lions have now converted to a full-blown NFL style passing offense. The statistics clearly point to similarities with the New England Patriots.
Hey, if you're going to copy an NFL team's offense, New England is as good as any.
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