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Era vs Era: 2005-2009 Defense

The word “slobberknocker” comes to mind

Penn State Nittany Lions v Michigan Wolverines Photo by Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images

We’re deep into the off-season, so I thought a series of posts to determine which era of the last 20 years was the mightiest might be fun. Here’s the premise:

  • We’ll compare four eras: 2005-09, 2010-14, 2015-19, 2020-23
  • In each era, we’ll compare two sides of the ball: offense and defense
  • We’ll compare things like stats, star players, and how the teams did each year
  • You, the reader will then decide what the best offense and defense was from each era
  • Once we have our “best of” teams for each era, we’ll do a 4-team playoff and you will again vote on the winner
  • Finally, the two winners of the semifinals will play again in the finals to determine the best era for Penn State football in the last 20 years

Get it? Got it? Good.

We’ve run through the offensive side of the ball, and your votes have been tallied. Now we’ll move to the other side of the ball, looking at the defenses from the 2005 to 2009 era, AKA the Late Paterno Era. While there were a couple good offenses in this era, there were a BUNCH of good defenses.

For now, take a stroll down memory lane, and see how the five defenses Penn State trotted out from 2005 to 2009 compare in some key stats, star personnel, and afterward be sure to vote in the poll. The results of that poll will determine the final results of this era’s defense!


  • Yards per Game (YPG) - 306.5 (17th nationally)
  • Points per Game (PPG) - 16.5 (11th nationally)
  • All-Americans - 4
  • All-Big Tens - 7
  • Players of the Year - 2

Whew lad. I mean no offense to the . . . well, offenses that Penn State has had over the years, but the Blue and White have been a defensive team first and foremost for a loooooong time. 2005 was a top notch defense, headlined by Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year Tamba Hali and the Butkus + Bednarik Award winner Paul Posluszny. That’s not to mention the other All-Americans at all three levels of the defense, and it’s rather obvious why 2005 was such a good year - when you finally pair a competent offense with a stellar defense, you get wins! As a reminder, the Lions charged to an 11-1 season, Big Ten Championship, Orange Bowl win over ACC Champ Florida State, and a final ranking of #3 in the country.


  • YPG - 279.0 (16th nationally)
  • PPG - 14.8 (11th nationally)
  • All-Americans - 4
  • All-Big Tens - 5
  • Players of the Year - 1

2006 did not skip a beat, and in fact may have been a bit better defensively. Once again Posluszny led the team, winning the Bednarik Award for the second year in a row (but not the Butkus somehow? Make it make sense, sports voters of America). Despite the defense’s success, the overall team took a bit of a dip, due chiefly to a lack of production on the other side of the ball. The team finished with a 9-4 record, Outback Bowl win over Tennessee, and a #24 ranking.


  • YPG - 306.6 (10th nationally)
  • PPG - 17.6 (8th nationally)
  • All-Americans - 1
  • All-Big Tens - 3
  • Players of the Year - 1

Want to know how I know that PSU is a defense-first team? Of the 18 offenses we reviewed, exactly one of them was a top 10 unit in either yards or points, and that was 2017, coming in as the #7 scoring offense. That’s it. The 2007 defense was a top 10 unit in BOTH yards and scoring - and it’s likely not the best defense the Lions have had in the past 20 years. Anyway, 2007 saw a changing of the guard at Linebacker, with Dan Connor taking over (and winning the Bednarik Award, obvi). The defense in general improved again, and the Lions secured a 9-4 record, Alamo Bowl win over TAMU, though they finished unranked in the final AP standings (did get #24 in the Coaches Poll though!).


  • YPG - 263.9 (5th nationally)
  • PPG - 12.4 (4th nationally)
  • All-Americans - 2
  • All-Big Tens - 3
  • Players of the Year - 0

2008 was one of those years where, yes, there were outstanding players, but it was more an overall group effort than one or two people individually leading the charge. Aaron Maybin was the biggest name for the defense, though he had help from others like NaVorro Bowman and Anthony Scirrotto. Paired with an exceptional offense, the Lions played to an 11-2 record, Big Ten Championship, and Rose Bowl appearance, though a loss there dropped them to #8 in the country. Were it not for an inexplicable loss to Iowa, Penn State likely would have contended for a national championship.


  • YPG - 274.5 (9th nationally)
  • PPG - 12.2 (3rd nationally)
  • All-Americans - 2
  • All-Big Tens - 4
  • Players of the Year - 1

In 2009, Jared Odrick went off, earning Big Ten Defensive Player and Defensive Lineman of the Year honors, to go with a bunch of other accolades. He was joined as an All-American by NaVorro Bowman, and the defense in general didn’t skip a beat. The offense, like other years, was another story, but Penn State still played to another 11-2 record, Capital One Bowl win over LSU, and a #9 ranking nationally.

The stats have been laid bare, you’ve fondly recalled some names and details of these teams, but now you have to vote! Pick which of the defenses from this era you think is the best. The winner will pair up with the best offense from the same era and take on the other eras in a winner-take-all playoff!


Which year had the best defense in the Late Paterno Era?

This poll is closed

  • 46%
    (159 votes)
  • 6%
    (21 votes)
  • 2%
    (10 votes)
  • 27%
    (93 votes)
  • 17%
    (59 votes)
342 votes total Vote Now