Grading the Penn State Defense Against Akron


It was a thoroughly dominating performance by the Nittany Lions for the first 30 minutes of play. Akron failed to register a first down until the third quarter. Penn State held the Zips to 8 total yards in the first half with minus 15 yards rushing. The second half was a different story, but we'll get into that. Let's grade out the defense.

Defensive Line

This was as dominating performance I can ever remember by a Penn State defensive line. Ollie Ogbu set the tone on Akron's first snap when he dropped Zips running back Norman Shuford for a three yard loss. Jack Crawford followed that up on the next play by blowing up a sweep to the right for a four yard loss. And so it was all afternoon for Akron. They couldn't open any holes to run through. and Jacquemain couldn't find any time to throw getting sacked four times.

Odrick and Ogbu were particularly dominating. Ogbu recorded 2.5 TFL while Odrick had 2 TFL and half a sack. There were also numerous times when they flushed Jacquemain into the arms of the outside pass rush.

The defensive ends had solid days. Jack Crawford looked good in his debut with 2 TFL and a sack. Eric Latimore also had a sack. But perhaps the best sight of the day was Jerome Hayes just being on the field and making plays again. He finished the day with 1.5 TFL.

They looked pretty sluggish in the second half of the game, but then so did the entire defense. A lot of young guys got to play including Devon Still, Chima Okoli, and Sean Stanley, and the coaches called off the dogs and played straight up basic defense. So I'm not going to count the second half against them.

Final Grade: A

Linebackers

It was The Nate Stupar Show on Saturday. The redshirt sophomore was forced into action early when Navorro Bowman was shut down to rest a nagging groin injury and made the most of the opportunity with a game high 12 tackles and a sack to go with them. Stupar had a huge play midway through the third quarter. Akron was attempting to get on the scoreboard by going for it on fourth down at the Penn State two-yard line. Jacquemain hurried the offense to the line and tried to catch the Penn State defense off guard. Jacquemain faked inside and tried to bounce it off tackle. Stupar met him there and shut him down one yard short of the goal line to keep Akron off the scoreboard. His play yesterday makes me feel okay about resting Bowman up for Big Ten play. We'll be just fine with No. 34 in there.

Man, was it great to see Sean Lee back in there. I think he looked faster than I remember him. And he looked as sharp as ever in anticipating the play and reacting. He had seven tackles and two TFL almost recording a safety down on the goal line.

Josh Hull wasn't spectacular, but he wasn't a liability either. As I suggested somewhere in the comments before the game, it's easy to play middle linebacker when you have Odrick and Ogbu lining up in front of you. It was rare that Akron could get a runner past those two, so Hull was never really called upon to make plays.

Final Grade: A

Secondary

It's really hard to judge the secondary in this game. Jacquemain couldn't find any time to throw in the first half, so they were never really tested. In the second half Penn State called off the dogs and sat back in deep zone coverages giving up a lot of yards in the process. But there were some key plays of note.

A.J. Wallace worked himself out of the doghouse a few weeks early and saw considerable playing time. Akron challenged him a few times and he got his hands on a few balls to break them up. But he could have had an interception or two if he had softer hands. I guess that's why he's on defense.

Andrew Dailey was Johnny on the Spot when Jacquemain sailed a first quarter pass deep over the middle and pulled down his first career interception.

Nick Sukay blew a coverage and gave up Akron's lone score on a 40 yard bomb.

Other than those two guys the secondary was pretty invisible all day.

Final Grade: Incomplete

Special Teams

It was a mixed bag on special teams. Everybody wants to focus on Colin Wagner shanking two field goals. One was admittedly bad missing from 28 yards, but in his defense it was a tough angle in close from the left hashmark. The other miss was a perfectly excuseable 49 yarder. Even the pros miss those more often than not.

Jeremy Boone was once again a terrific weapon averaging 43 yards on his two punts.

Nate Stupar absolutely blew up a kick return in the second quarter. He's easily my favorite player to watch on kick return coverage. But the kickoff coverage gave up a big return to open the second half giving Akron the ball at midfield.

Andrew Dailey and the entire punt coverage team executed a perfect fake punt to pick up 37 yards and a first down.

Final Grade: C

Defense Coaching

It's hard to fault anything with what the coaches did in the first half. The results speak for themselves. But they didn't just call off the dogs in the second half. They left them in the lockerroom and came right out in the BBDS defense. Jacquemain picked them apart with a nice drive to start the half. And then he torched them getting behind Sukay. I would have liked to have seen the defense keep the foot on the gas until the fourth quarter. I blame that on the coaches for letting the pressure off.

What was up with the pooch punt on 4th and 1 from the 35 late in the third quarter? Wagner booted it in the endzone for a touchback and a net 15 yard exchange of field position. I would have preferred going for the first down there since the offense was sputtering and Akron was picking up momentum. My next choice would have been trying the long field goal. I understand you are trying to boost the confidence of your new kicker. I'm not sure giving him a bunch of chip shots is the way to do that. Imagine the confidence boost he would get from hitting a 50 yarder. Just seems the reward outweighs the risk there in my opinion. And my third option would have been sending Boone in there to pin it deep. Don't leave it to your place kicker. Read my lips: Some team later on is going to anticipate this move again and have a return man back there waiting. And Penn State is going to pay for it.

Final Grade: B-

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