UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Action in football is fleeting and short. Though the games last three and a half hours, the number of plays run is about 150 or so. The actual time of live action is about 11 minutes, according to a study by the Wall Street Journal.
These numbers could lead a fan to wonder, what exactly is going on the rest of this time? The players can't just wait around with their arms folded on their chests the whole time. Or can they?
Penn State, for a college football team, uses a rather complex offense. Coach Bill O'Brien can use a more traditional style, or switch to his no-huddle NASCAR offense for a string of plays. On defense, its players usually face traditional Big Ten Conference offenses such as Wisconsin or high-powered ones like Ohio State's.
What are they thinking and doing throughout the downtime of a game, during all those seconds between plays? Here's commentary from a few players and from O'Brien. The answers range from the complex to the simple -- indeed, maybe there is a only a little bit of waiting and arm-folding in football.
Center Ty Howle: "With our offense, a lot of times we aren't huddling. So as soon as the play is over, I look to see where the ball is and look to see where it's first- or second-and-10 or whatever and then I'm looking at the sideline to get the play call and looking at the defense. There are a lot of things going on.
"We go out and practice the way we're going to play. If our game plan that week is to go no-huddle, we're trying to simulate what it's going to be like on a game-day atmosphere as much as possible during practice."
Cornerback Jordan Lucas: "Usually what personnel they're in and what I have to get when I see the formation. A lot of things are going through your head, you don't even know it. You're not even thinking about it. You go through so much film study that it's second nature."
Quarterback Christian Hackenberg: "I'm really just focusing on what I can do to make the next play successful. Next play, we're going to win it."
Running back Akeel Lynch: "Always being alert. I want to know what the play call is and take a mental picture of what is going on on the field."
Defensive end Austin Johnson: "Uh, I don't know. Just planning and reacting. Just being a football player."
O'Brien, on using this time to decide which play to call: "If you can gain positive yards on first down, then your second-and-medium call or second-and-short call, you can call it whatever you want. That's a play-caller's dream. That's really the most important thing.
"Because once you get a good gain on first down, then you're right away into a play-calling rhythm. And after that, for anybody that's called plays, that's really what it's all about, and it's not that difficult. But as far as what I'm looking for and all those things, I mean, I'm not telling you."
Mark Dent: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05