Penn State's 'NASCAR' offense fuels Nittany Lions success

Posted: October 26, 2012

The clean, crisp air of an autumn evening in Happy Valley could be stirred this weekend by the smell of exhaust fumes wafting through Beaver Stadium.

OK, not really. But Penn State's increasingly effective no-huddle offense, dubbed "NASCAR" by head coach Bill O'Brien, has sped past tired defenses during its first three Big Ten games and could have an impact on Saturday night's showdown against undefeated Ohio State.

O'Brien said before the season that he wanted to use the no-huddle on occasion to change the pace of the game. But it has been more valuable than maybe even he expected, and he has run NASCAR in heavy doses in conference competition.

The Nittany Lions lead the Big Ten with an average of 90.3 offensive plays in league contests, and 79.0 plays in seven games overall. They posted a high of 99 against Northwestern. In Joe Paterno's last full season, 2010, the team averaged 67.2 offensive plays.

Maybe that's why everyone is making a big fuss about the swift tempo. But O'Brien downplays it, noting that NASCAR was part of his attack at his previous college coaching stops and with the New England Patriots, where he was offensive coordinator.

"It's a no-huddle offense that's really been around football since the beginning of time," he said. "No one invented this. It's just really like a huddle on the ball. It's not really a big deal. It's about good communication and good execution."

The NASCAR has given fifth-year senior quarterback Matt McGloin another opportunity to display his knowledge of O'Brien's offense by giving him a lot of responsibility in calling the play, setting up the pass protection, positioning his receivers, calling an audible if necessary, and executing the play.

"It's fun, and when the offense has fun, that's when you start playing very well and putting up points," McGloin said Wednesday. "That's the best part about it . . . you're having fun out there. You're making plays. You're enjoying the game overall.

"Speaking for myself, I'm able to get us in the offense and do what we do best, get guys into the right formations and get guys into the right play and be a field general, basically. It's a lot of fun doing that."

McGloin said the offense is "hitting our stride right now" with NASCAR.

"We're adding stuff to it each and every week," he said. "So we're getting a lot better with it, and we're very comfortable with it."

It may not be as much fun for Penn State's offensive line, five players who weigh 300 pounds or more and have to dash to the next play and line up without a chance to catch their breath. But they have pride in keeping the pace.

"It's a big testament to our line," said 301-pound center Matt Stankiewitch. "Our strength coach and conditioning coach got us ready with winter, spring, summer workouts to get us ready for the NASCAR.

"We're thinking, 'Why are we running so much? Why are we doing this, doing that?' But Coach O'Brien kept us focused and told us he had a purpose. So we just believed in what he told us, and it's paid off. We didn't know we were going to running NASCAR this much, but it's a testament to how athletic and how much in shape we are as an offensive line."

The NASCAR doesn't necessarily gobble up big chunks of yardage; the Penn State offense as a whole is averaging 4.9 yards per play in Big Ten games, ranking it seventh of the 12 teams. But it keeps the defense from substituting and gets the offense into a quick tempo.

"You get into a certain rhythm," O'Brien said. "Any coach that runs that type of up-tempo offense will tell you that first down is really important. If you get positive yards, then with your second-and-medium or second-and-short call you can call whatever you want. That's a play-caller's dream. You're in a play-calling rhythm."

Skill players like the NASCAR, too.

"We've been doing it for a while," tailback Bill Belton said. "A lot of things go into it, and things definitely evolve over time. As the season progresses, we definitely are more confident."

Penn State may run its offense at a more controlled pace to keep the ball away from Ohio State's Braxton Miller, one of the nation's top dual-threat quarterbacks. So it remains to be seen how much O'Brien utilizes NASCAR, but he could drop the green flag at any time.


Start Your Engines

Penn State's no-huddle offense, dubbed NASCAR by coach Bill O'Brien, has picked up the pace since the start of the Big Ten Conference season. (All team totals are for three conference games with the exception of Wisconsin, which has played four.)

Big Ten                           Nationally (Overall)

1. Penn State    90.3               Marshall             91.0

2. Nebraska    76.3               Houston            88.6

3. Indiana       70.7               Arizona             88.7

Big Ten                           Nationally

1. Penn State       36:46            Texas Christian 34:32

2. Wisconsin       32:42            W. Kentucky    34:23

3. Michigan          32:19            Florida             34:07

Big Ten

1. Penn State    plus-27.3

2. Nebraska    plus-7.6

3. Michigan       plus-7.3


Contact Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @joejulesinq.

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