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Penn State is using Spring ball to recreate, and learn from critical 2014 game situations


For a handful of years now, the insanely popular Madden video game series has had a mode where you can go back to the previous season, or close games in the previous week, and take over a team to try and recreate the outcome with your own unique spin. Sometimes it's scoring the go ahead touchdown with Peyton Manning with 37 seconds left and 80-yards in front of you, other times it's stopping Tom Brady in the red zone with the game on the line.

Take that last play in the Super Bowl for example, instead of calling a pass play on the one yard line Madden allows you to plug yourself into that exact situation; down 24-28 as Pete Carroll's Seattle Seahawks with the opportunity just turn around and hand the ball off to Marshawn Lynch instead for the easy winning touchdown to knock off the Patriots (or you could always throw the ball over the middle...your choice). Changing the outcome effectively gives you the feeling that you've somehow changed the course of football history - except you really haven't at all.

James Franklin and his staff are doing something similar with their Spring practices at Penn State, taking critical situations from their 2014 season, and replaying them under controlled conditions to learn from the mistakes that were made.

The most recent practice example came from their game against Illinois, and they recreated the exact situation down to the yard line, time left, and timeouts remaining. Back in the fall, with under four minutes to go, Penn State just needed to run the ball successfully, and get a few first downs to drain the clock. Instead they ended up punting the ball on fourth-and-one, leaving the door open for Illinois to put together a 54-yard, seven-play drive that ended with the Illini kicking a 36-yard field goal to win the game.

"We've gone back and taken all these game situations from last year, and now we're going to play them out so we can learn from some of the mistakes that we made last year. Now our offense was able to line up and win both those situations in terms of eating up the clock."

"It's one of those things that you're trying to make it more valuable," Franklin added when asked if this was an approach he's always used. "If I get up there and just say 'four minute situation, three minutes and ten seconds left, two timeouts,' or just come up with something, but if I could tell them, 'this is the situation, and this is exactly where we were at last year against Illinois. Offense, you want to end the game on your terms, controlling your own fate, and controlling your own destiny. Defense, we're trying to get off the field, and give the ball back to the offense."

"So you go through the whole thing, and anytime you can point back to a specific example, it carries more weight. Especially when it was a situation that we weren't successful in."

"We may even take a situation from the Super Bowl," Franklin explained. "It's just something that I can call out and say 'here's the situation from the Super Bowl, here's the situation from the AFC Championship, here's the situation from the Big Ten Championship, or something from ourselves, is probably even more relevant."