Grading The Penn State Defense Against Minnesota


It was a great performance in shutting out the Gophers on Saturday. Overall Minnesota was held to just 138 yards and seven first downs (one by penalty) in the game. Adam Weber only managed 101 yards passing, and his favorite target Eric Decker only caught one pass for 42 yards. It was the first shutout for the Penn State defense since defeating Temple 31-0 in 2007. It was the Nittany Lions' first Big Ten shutout since defeating Purdue 12-0 in 2006, and the first Big Ten shutout in Beaver Stadium since beating Northwestern 49-0 in 2002. Let's grade out the defense.

Defensive Line

They weren't flashy. Odrick faced double teams most of the day which kept him from getting camera time, but he did manage the game's only sack. He narrowly missed another sack when he had the quarterback dead to rights, but Weber ducked out of it and managed to throw the ball away. Odrick and Ollie Ogbu along with Devon Still and Jordan Hill did a good job of clogging the middle to limit Minnesota to just 37 yards rushing. The defensive ends weren't spectacular, but more than held their own. The rushing defense was great. The pass rush was just a step or two slow all day.

Did anyone else notice the beer guts on the Minnesota offensive linemen? Sheesh.

Final Grade: B

 

Linebackers

The linebackers played a great game in run and pass defense. Bowman absolutely blew up a wide receiver screen play, and along with Wallace he preserved the shutout at the end in stopping Whaley short of the goal line. He led the team with eight tackles and two TFL.

Josh Hull set the tone early with the interception. He also played a tough game and stopped several runs right at the goal line.

Sean Lee worked his way back onto the field. He didn't play much and looked a little tentative. On the first drive he got flagged for hitting a receiver high. It was hands down the worst flag I think I've ever seen thrown. If you can't hit the receiver in the chest with your shoulder pad anymore, I don't know what you can do. There was clearly no intent to hurt the guy on the play. I guess the moral of the story is if a receiver is coming over the middle, you're not allowed to hit him head on. Just let him keep running I guess.

Bani Gbadyu and Nate Stupar didn't do anything to impress me, but then Penn State played a lot of nickel with Bowman and Hull at linebacker, so they didn't see the field much either.

Final Grade: A

Secondary

The goal the secondary was simple going into the game. Stop Eric Decker, and Penn State wins the game. I said on Friday I would be happy if they held him to five or six catches for 50 or 60 yards. Minnesota's star receiver only managed 42 yards on one catch late in the third quarter when the game was comfortably in hand.

A.J. Wallace was challenged by the coaching staff to blanket Decker, and he did so finally living up to his five-star recruiting ranking. Decker's one catch came at the expense of Nick Sukay and Drew Astorino misjudging the ball and letting him slip past them. So Wallace effectively pitched a shutout. He also assisted Bowman in stopping Whaley at the goal line and preserving the shutout.

D'Anton Lynn and Stephon Morris also played good games.

Final Grade: A

 

Special Teams

I was just hoping we wouldn't give up some cheap touchdowns on special teams. We got that, so bully for them. Collin Wagner made a career long field goal from 47 yards. It just barely made it over the crossbar, and a 49 yard attempt later in the game fell short by two yards, so we can call 47 yards his official range.

Jeremy Boone only had two punt attempts, each with a short field to work with. One punt landed inside the 20 while the other bounced in the endzone.

The kickoff coverage was outstanding. Minnesota's best return only got out to the 25 yard line. Wagner's kicks are still landing short, but he's getting much better hang time. The kickoff game is slowly coming around.

Final Grade: B

 

Defensive Coaching

How can you argue with the coaching when you pitch a shutout and hold your opponent to just 138 yards? You can't really. The front seven basically just had to show up and they were going to stop the anemic Minnesota rushing attack. So I can't give the coaches much credit there.

Lining up Wallace one-on-one with Decker was a huge gamble, but it obviously paid off. Gee, do ya think Brewster and Weber were expecting to get a steady dose of BBDS Cover-3 all day? They had no answers for the coverages they were seeing. They forced Weber into a lot of situations where he had to throw the ball away or scramble for a few insignificant yards.

All year long I've scratched my head wondering why they keep running that stupid pooch punt with Wagner, but then I think I figured out why. Wagner did another pooch on Penn State's first failed drive. On Penn State's next two trips into Minnesota territory they tried long field goals. Wagner had to hit low line drives to get the distance he needed which left the kick susceptible to being blocked. But I was amazed to see Minnesota sitting back almost without a block attempt giving Wagner free air to make the kick. I have to conclude the Gophers were unsure about what Penn State was going to do because of Wagner's punt earlier in the game.

Final Grade: A

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