Through two games, Penn State has yet to really be tested on the ground.
Against Purdue, the Lions faced an offense predicated on the pass. Luckily for PSU, the secondary is as stout as it was last year, and despite Aidan O’Connell throwing for 365 yards, he did so on 59 attempts, completing just 51% of his passes, and recording just one touchdown.
You’d love for the overall yardage to come down, but if your opponent is willing to pass the ball over 70% of the time, you’re going to give up some yardage. In 2021, O’Connell completed 71.6% of his passes! That sort of completion percentage on 59 attempts should have been 42 completions, not just 30.
So yes, Penn State can defend the pass.
On the 22 rushing attempts Purdue had, they averaged just 2.8 yards per carry allowed, though that’s skewed a bit by O’Connell’s negative numbers. Without Aidan, the Boilermakers were closer to 3.9 YPC. Some of that had to do with the fact that the Lions were constantly defending the pass, so when a rare rushing play did happen, defenders had to come crashing down from the secondary.
Still, the longest run the Lions allowed was just 9 yards.
Against Ohio, the Lions faced a bit more balanced attack, though the Bobcats still chose to pass the ball 40 times, or about 60% of their offensive snaps. When Ohio ran it, they averaged around 3.8 YPC, similar to Auburn. Perhaps more worryingly, the Bobcats broke off a few longer runs, including rushes of 25 yards, 14 yards, and 11 yards.
Auburn is a different beast when it comes to rushing the ball.
Through two games, Auburn has attempted just 46 passes - or 13 fewer than the Lions faced in their game against Purdue.
Meanwhile, the Tigers have rushed the ball 79 times, which means they run the ball 63% of the time.
What has their rushing attack gotten them?
7.0 YPC and 5 TDs against Mercer.
5.5 YPC and 3 TDs against San Jose State.
It’s safe to say that this will be the most potent run game the Lions have faced yet this season, and will likely be one of the top three they face all year.
We know Penn State can defend the pass - can they defend the run?