I’m all but set to turn the page on this past weekend’s loss to Michigan, as I’ve moved through all the stages of grief, and am just about to Acceptance.
But there’s one more thing I’d like to get off my chest before turning my full attention to Minnesota, and that is Penn State’s tackling form.
The size of the Penn State defense has been discussed already. Are they too small? Maybe! Did Franklin lean too hard into the Ohio State model of smaller, faster athletes, only to find out that a) PSU still isn’t as good as OSU, and b) OSU got clowned by Michigan last year too? Maybe!
The gap integrity and overall defensive scheme has been discussed already. Why did they stick with two high safeties against a team that was happy to run the ball all day? Why did a supposedly sound defense suddenly forget how to stay gap-sound, and plug holes, forcing ball carriers back inside? Why did supposedly athletic players begin to take the worst possible pursuit angles? The world may never know!
What I want to talk about is tackling. And how, for 3.5 hours this past Saturday, Penn State forgot that it’s okay - preferred, in fact - to wrap your arms around a ball carrier when you attempt to tackle them.
There was a stretch in the second quarter where the Lions couldn’t seem to buy a tackle. At all three levels, Penn State seemed intent on going for the hit stick, with the intention of an explosive tackle perhaps igniting something on defense. A lowering of the shoulder and plowing into the ball carrier, with no intent on follow-up, should that initial hit fail.
What happened instead was every single Michigan ball carrier bounced off the first hit, smiled, then kept right on running.
And it happened at all three levels, though the linebackers in particular stand out in memory at being particularly egregious in this regard.
Would sound tackling have saved the Lions against Michigan? Almost assuredly not. Would perhaps a single drive for the Wolverines have ended in a punt? Maybe!
But Penn State can’t simply “out big” their opponents in the Big Ten, especially one that has been built as Wisconsin with better athletes.
Wrap up when you hit someone, and I promise things will generally be better.
Just don’t pull a Joey Porter, Jr., and suplex an opponent after the play is dead. That’s TOO MUCH wrapping up.