Penn State Defense Grades Against Northwestern


It was a tale of two halves. Penn State started the game looking completely lost on defense. You would think after facing Denard Robinson last week, handling Dan Persa wouldn't be a problem. And yet there was the scrawny quarterback darting and shifting his way through the defense. And when he wasn't running, he was hitting receivers in stride for big gains. When Northwestern scored a touchdown with an amazing one handed catch in the back of the endzone to take a 21-0 lead with a minute to go in the first half, the defense looked like they had no answers and defeat was all but certain.

But then Matt McGloin led the amazing 91 yard touchdown drive in just 47 seconds. Then Penn State took the kickoff in the second half and marched 84 yards for a touchdown in just under six minutes. It was a key swing of momentum that gave the defense a second lease on life. The last time they left the field they were down by 21 points. Now, midway through the third quarter they were only down by seven. They responded by forcing Northwestern into two consecutive three-and-outs and did not let the Wildcats score another point in the game.

It's a game that Penn State fans will not soon forget. Let's grade the defense.

Defensive Line

I noted in the previews last Friday that Northwestern gives up a lot of sacks, so I figured Devon Still and Ollie Ogbu were have big games. They didn't disappoint. Devon Still has now had two solid games back-to-back and got a sack that was nearly a safety. Ollie Ogbu looked fantastic and had 2 TFL and half a sack.

The defensive ends were okay, but they're still the weakness of the defense. They kept going with outside speed rushes and took themselves right out of the play allowing Dan Persato get some big gains. When this gets combined with Colasanti getting gobbled up inside the results are disasterous and usually result in a huge play.

I don't know if you all noticed, but Jack Crawford got in the game briefly in the first half. Getting him back to 100% would greatly improve depth at defensive end. Especially since Jordan Hill went down and didn't look good walking off the field with assistance. I haven't seen an update on Hill's status, so if anyone hears anything please share it in the comments.

Final Grade: B

Linebackers

I don't think there is a unit on the team that can swing from being the Keystone Cops on one series to playing like the League of Heroes the next. A lot of it has to do with how well the defensive line is playing.When those guys up front are eating up blockers the linebackers can attack. But when guys get in the second level they can look pretty silly.

I think we've pretty much nailed down what to expect from Chris Colasantiby this point. He's actually improved greatly when it comes to reading and attacking on running plays. He's aggressive in meeting the runner in the hole and even had a TFL on Saturday. He tied for the team lead with 11 tackles on the day. But we have to also expect him to show poorpursuit to the sideline and poor pass coverage. This is what we'll have to live with, but overall he has greatly improved the past few weeks and he's a serviceable player.

Mike Mauti is clearly the emerging star of the group. He tied with Colasanti for 11 tackles, but 10 of Mauti's were solo tackles. Mauti also had a sack on the day, and he played with incredible passion virtually owning the third quarter.

Nate Stupar continues to look bad in open space. Bani Gbadyu...ugh.

Final Grade: B

Secondary

Northwestern came into the game averaging over 260 yards passing per game which ranked 25th in the nation, but Penn State held them to just 201 yards. So that's pretty good. Most of Northwestern's passing yards came on crossing patterns that were attacking the linebackers over the middle. Overall, I can't recall any breakdowns by the secondary. They played really well, but an interception or two would have been nice.

Final Grade: B

Special Teams

Collin Wagner missed a 51-yard field goal. No shame in that really, and I'm willing to give him a pass with the way he has been kicking all year. Anthony Fera had three punts, and none of them broke 40 yards. That's not very good, but two of those punts were downed inside the Wildcat 20-yard line. So he was playing with a short field on those and did a good job. He was getting his kickoffs pretty deep and had two touchbacks there. One kick was a squib right before the end of the half, so that kind of killed his average for the game.

The kickoff coverage team did well in keeping the Wildcats pinned deep. James Van Fleet made a good play when Northwestern kick returner Stephen Simmons showed some indecision by stepping over the goal line and stopping. Van Fleet dropped him at the 11 yard line allowing the defense to play aggressively. Northwestern had to play it safe and went three-and-out.

Penn State's kick returns were not so great. I don't know why, but they kept catching the ball on the left side and tried to cut across the field to head up the right sideline. The end result would be watching Chaz Powell run 40 yards, but he only gained 15 yards on the field. It was quite annoying.

Final Grade: C

Defensive Coaching

Tom Bradley and a few players said after the game that Northwestern was running some things at them in the first half they weren't ready for. I always wonder if this is just a convenient excuse, but in this case you have to credit the coaches for making the necessary adjustments because the Wildcats were shut out in the second half. I kind of wonder if Bradley meant they weren't expecting Persa to run so much after suffering a concussion last week. Penn State seemed to stack the box in the second half and that did the trick. It seemed like Northwestern was making an effort to run the ball. Partly to eat some clock and slow down the Penn State offense, and partly because they were playing with lousy field position throughout the third quarter. Either way, going conservative played right into Penn State's hands.

My one complaint is that Mike Mauti is not out on the field for every play. When Penn State was dominating the third quarter, Mauti was flying around like his hair was on fire. But then all the sudden in the fourth quarter there was Gbadyu and Stupar running around. Not surprisingly, the Purple Nerds waltzed down the field to the Penn State 9-yard line where they thankfully turned the ball over on downs. Mauti came in for the next series and had three tackles including a sack on 3rd and 14 that helped kill Northwestern's final drive.

Just leave Mauti in the game all the time. And leave Gbadyu on the bench.

Final Grade: B

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