Offense seeking balance

September, 6, 2012
9/06/12
3:00
PM ET
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Bill O'Brien didn't have to pause and search for an answer when asked about this week's offensive game plan. To O'Brien, the solution to Saturday's maladies seemed obvious.

"We've got to be more balanced," the first-year head coach said. "That starts with me."

He didn't walk through the south tunnel Saturday hoping to pass nearly seven out of 10 plays. And, he said, he's not looking to do that against Virginia. He wants to return to the football basics; he wants to run more.

But there's a hitch in this week's scheme: Trainers have held Bill Belton out of practice, and O'Brien might be forced to start a fifth-year senior, Derek Day, who's carried the ball 15 times in his career.

USC transfer Silas Redd reached that mark eight times last season.

"For any QB to be successful, you have to run the football," Matt McGloin admitted.

O'Brien called 48 passes to just 22 runs last week. Even by New England Patriots standards, that's high. Tom Brady surpassed the 48-attempt plateau just once last season in a 24-20 loss to the New York Giants.

New England passed about 58 percent of the time last season; Penn State passed in 68.5 percent of its plays last week. To add some perspective, even pass-happy Houston would've called about five more running plays than PSU, based on last year's numbers.

So, O'Brien appeared sincere this week when he said he'd better emphasize his stable of inexperienced running backs. He praised his offensive line and remarked about his confidence in Day and those other tailbacks. But, Virginia coach Mike London didn't appear to expect balance.

"I think they won't depart too far from what they showed last week, showing what their identity is," London said Thursday.

Short, quick pass plays defined the Nittany Lions' offense when it hustled the ball downfield in the first half. Then again, it also defined an offense that sputtered in the second half.

"We felt in the first half we were kind of showing the identity we wanted to have," offensive tackle Mike Farrell said, "but in the second half we faded a little bit. So it's been a priority this week for us to improve and play a full game."

Tight end Kyle Carter said his team hoped to add another dimension to its attack by focusing more on deep throws. McGloin didn't complete a pass longer than 25 yards, and most attempts weren't thrown farther than 15.

At practice Wednesday, quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher stood close to McGloin while he launched a handful of 40-yard tosses. Allen Robinson caught a perfect ball in stride, while a slower Matt Zanellato found himself two steps behind another.

McGloin wouldn't say what he was expecting for Charlottesville. He refused to say whether, when he looks back on this season, Penn State might have more passes than rushes.

"Right now, it's simple," McGloin said. "We're going to do what we have to do to win. If that means we throw it 10 times, we'll throw it 10 times. If we have to run it 100 times, we'll run it 100."

Josh Moyer | email

Penn State/Big Ten reporter

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