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Grading the Penn State Defense Against the Iowa Hawkeyes

It's hard to evaluate the defense when your offense goes out and lays a turd on national television. When your offense keeps putting you on the field with your back against the wall you can only hold out so long.

Defensive Line

The unit wasn't it's dominating self, but then the level of competition was about 1000 times better than the first three games. Jared Odrick and Ollie Ogbu went pretty much unnoticed, but they did a good job in occupying blockers so that Josh Hull and Navorro Bowman could combine for 26 tackles and 5 TFL.

The defensive ends didn't impress me much. I noticed that Jerome Hayes got the start, and Iowa went to work attacking him right away. He was lined up on the side with Bani Gbadyu when Brandon Wegher ripped off his 32 yard run on Iowa's second drive. On the next drive he was replaced with Eric  who I thought did a much better job in run defense. Jack Crawford didn't make a big impression on me. He's still a year away from being a monster.

But overall I felt like the line held their own against the powerful Iowa offensive line. The Iowa running game averaged 4.4 yards per carry and gave up two sacks.

Final Grade: B


Navorro Bowman returned, but Penn State is still waiting to see their two All-Big Ten linebackers on the field at the same time as Sean Lee sat out with a sprained knee. So his spot was filled by Bani Gbadyu and Nate Stupar. Stupar came into the game nursing a sprained ankle, and I noticed Gbadyu got a little dinged up himself in the game. It sure would have been nice to have Mike Mauti out there. It seems like the deeper Penn State is at any particular position, the more injuries they tend to get. See defensive tackles.

Bowman and Hull looked fantastic. Both of them had 13 tackles in the game. Bowman tackled three ball carriers behind the line while Hull had two TFL and a sack. After that blocked punt you could tell by the body language on the team that they had given up, but Hull and Bowman kept playing hard to the end.

Personally, I think the bashing Josh Hull sees is no longer justified. He's a tremendous player and a tenacious linebacker that goes hard every play. He's not the best in pass coverage, but then neither was Paul Posluszny.

Final Grade: A



I thought the secondary played an excellent game. Ricky Stanzi was held to just 135 yards and completed less than 50% of his passes while throwing two picks. But it should be pointed out that Stanzi wasn't helped by his own guys dropping several passes.

Two guys that really impressed me were Nick Sukay and Stephon Morris. Sukay had nine tackles, broke up four passes, and caught an interception. Unfortunately, it was his missed block that led to the punt block, but that shouldn't completely negate a solid game. Morris has basically solidified himself on the first team nickel package; a truly amazing achievement for a true freshman in only his fourth game. And remember that Morris did not enroll in the spring and just joined the team in July. He's going to be a special player.

I was disappointed in Drew Astorino. Normally he's a pretty sure tackler, but he overran some plays and looked silly in whiffing on some arm tackles. I chalk that up to a wet field where he wasn't able to plant his feet and set himself.

Final Grade: B


Special Teams

I was worried going into this game that special teams were going to liability, and they were. Colin Wagner is not getting it done as the place kicker. His kickoffs aren't going past the five yard line, and I don't think he's made a field goal over 40 yards yet. I'm officially on the Give-Anthony-Fera-A-Chance bandwagon.

Once again Jeremy Boone was the lone star averaging 53 yards on his two punts. But other than that everything was atrocious. Iowa averaged 24 yards per kick return, and they returned a blocked punt for 53 yards. Penn State averaged 17.2 yards on five kick returns, but that was with one good return for 36 yards by Chaz Powell. The Nittany Lions only averaged only 12.5 yards on their other four returns.

Remember everything I said about Nick Sukay's play on defense? Yeah, well, none of that applies to special teams last night. He blew the blocking assignment and also drew the questionable roughing the kicker call on the Iowa punt. But he's still a good player who will get better.

Final Grade: F


Defensive Coaching

I happened to be sitting next to a few Iowa fans in the stands during the game. They were nice guys and very friendly complimenting us profusely on how awesome our stadium was. Anyway, right after Clark hit Powell for the 79 yard touchdown the place was rocking and they were obviously standing there with that "Oh Crap" look on their face. I leaned over to the guy and said, "This probably works to your advantage. With a seven point lead Joe is going to go conservative and let you get back in it." Today it kind of frightens me how accurate that was.

I paid particular attention to the secondary since it's hard to tell what they're doing while watching a game on television (I'll save my rant on television coverage as it relates to football strategy for another day.) They pretty much played Cover-3 the entire first half, and just like the fourth quarter last year in Iowa City, Stanzi picked them apart for eight or nine yards on every second down to set up a short yardage situation for third down. In my opinion, this is inexcusable.

Back in 2004 Joe Paterno came to the realization that if he wanted to be competitive he had to change his offense so it wasn't so predictable. Out of this was born the Spread HD with multiple formations, plays, and personnel to keep the opposing defense guessing. The new offense has been a tremendous success (last night notwithstanding), but yet Penn State hasn't changed a thing on defense. I know the defense still manages to do quite well, but why put them at the disadvantage of being so predictable? Why let Iowa march down the field and hope you can tighten up inside the 30 yard line? Would it kill us to play man-to-man once in a while? Or even a Cover-2 where the corners are in man and the safeties are covering deep zones?

I was pleased to see more blitzes in the second half and I thought it worked well to keep Stanzi off balance. I thought that was a nice adjustment. I also liked pulling Hayes in favor of Latimore.

Final Grade: B