Regardless of the year or era you became a Penn State fan, you noticed a familiar sight on Saturday - a Nittany Lion front seven dominating the line of scrimmage to make even the smallest gains extremely difficult. Whether your first memories of the blue and white are with Matt Millen, or Shane Conlan, or Courtney Brown, or Tamba Hali, or Jared Odrick or Anthony Zettel, or Micah Parsons, you have come to enjoy the experience of watching Penn State defenses controlling the line of scrimmage, collapsing pockets, and continually ending plays behind the line of scrimmage as offenses are forced to wave a white flag, knowing they just don’t have what it takes to move the ball against this defense.
We finally received a glimpse of this in 2020, as a young defense that is growing by the week had it’s best game of the season, holding the Scarlet Knights to just 205 yards of total offense on the day.
The defense was lights out from the very start, setting the tone for what would prove to be a very long day for the Rutgers offense. The defense yielded just 43 yards of offense in the first half, as six possessions ended with four three-and-outs, with the other two possessions ending on downs. Nearly half of Rutgers offensive plays went for a yard or less, and 37.5 percent of snaps were for zero or negative yards. That’s how you dominate a ballgame from start to finish.
This was a team effort by the defense, with many equally impactful performances helping propel Penn State to its second consecutive victory.
Jesse Luketa had a career-best 10 tackles along with his first fumble recovery. He also had a moment that encapsulated the Nittany Lions recent win streak. After missing a tackle due to a poor angle on the ballcarrier, Luketa recovered on the next play by meeting the ballcarrier at the line of scrimmage for no gain, keeping his arms wrapped and refusing to yield one inch of turf.
Ellis Brooks also had a standout performance with nine tackles and a forced fumble (which was recovered by Luketa). Brandon Smith continued his upward trajectory that could see him as an All-American in 2021, jumping off the screen and constantly making plays around the ball.
PJ Mustipher and Antonio Shelton blew up play after play in the trenches, leaving the Scarlet Knights bewildered as they searched for any answer to move the ball. Mustipher and Shelton have each had quietly productive seasons, which have unfortunately been somewhat lost during a tumultuous year.
Jayson Oweh and Shaka Toney were each too much to handle off the edge. As he has been doing since 2017, Toney made a huge play in the third quarter as he hit the quarterback just as the ball was leaving his hands, forcing another punt.
Let’s not forget the secondary either - Joey Porter Jr. had a standout performance, leading to him being named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week. Daequan Hardy was equally impressive at the other cornerback spot, continuing his rapid rise during the latter part of the season as he sees his role increase. Jonathan Sutherland, Jaquan Brisker and Lamont Wade played well at safety, combining forces for 10 tackles and hampering the offense with five pass breakups.
But it all started in the trenches for the Nittany Lions on Saturday - the most appropriate way for the team to earn its 900th all-time victory.