Column: Defensive Changes Must be Made
If Penn State wishes to have any success in the Big Ten this year, their defense will have to improve drastically. Last week’s showing against Central Florida was so pitiful that if defensive adjustments are not made, the Nittany Lions will be in for a long, disappointing season.
Poor tackling and undisciplined defense were the themes of the day for the Penn State unit last Saturday. The Knight’s running back, Storm Johnson, broke through numerous arm tackles on his way to 117 yards rushing, including a 58-yard touchdown run. He averaged nearly seven yards per carry and made the Lions defensive front seven look foolish, as he ran both through and around them. Central Florida would go on to gain a total of 219 rushing yards, which helped them sustain long drives all night long.
The secondary for Penn State was just as atrocious as the defensive front. UCF quarterback Blake Bortles found wide open receiver, after wide open receiver, throwing for 288 yards to go along with three touchdown passes. The Nittany Lion cornerbacks and safeties did not appear to be communicating at all, resulting in Knights’ receivers being left uncovered, especially inside the red zone. To make matters worse, the secondary struggled to bring down ball carriers once they got to the second level, which allowed for repeated big gains.
Penn State ended up surrendering 507 total yards of offense, an astronomical number considering the fact that this game took place inside Beaver Stadium. One-hundred thousand fans were screaming every time UCF took a snap, but still, the Lions were unable to keep the Knights from rolling over them.
This was a tough game to watch, and should leave Nittany Lion fans worried about what they will see from this defense moving forward. UCF was the first solid and efficient offense Penn State faced all year, but they will not be the last, and certainly will not be the best. Since Big Ten games are just around the corner, defensive coordinator John Butler needs to get this group repaired quickly.
Within the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions take on many teams with very strong offenses. They travel to Indiana, who has the 11th-ranked passing attack in the nation ,and are averaging 50 points a game. Penn State will also play a Wolverine team who is averaging 42 points a game. They take on Ohio State and Nebraska, who are both averaging more than 260 rushing yards per game, and Wisconsin, who is averaging 337 rushing yards a game.
The offenses do not get any easier for Penn State this year, and without a drastic change, they will find themselves 0-5 against these opponents. The Nittany Lion offense does not have enough fire power to put up 35 to 40 points a game. As impressive as quarterback Christian Hackenberg has been, he will be playing against better teams once the Lions get into the Big Ten part of the schedule. A quarterback’s best friend is a good defense, especially for a freshman, but right now, the Penn State defense looks like Hackenberg’s worst enemy.
To get better, the Nittany Lion defense needs to start from the beginning. Bill O’Brien and John Butler should be emphasizing the proper way to tackle, and even re-teach it to those who were getting run over last Saturday. Missed tackles against teams who love to run the rock like Ohio State, Nebraska, and Wisconsin will lead to Penn State getting blown out of a lot of games.
Communication needs to be much better as well. There is no excuse for a team leaving a receiver wide open. Everybody in the secondary needs to know what is going on around them so that cornerbacks and safeties can ensure that the whole field is covered. Butler should be hammering this home, or else he will be out of a job this coming offseason.
The Penn State football program has always taken pride in the ability of their defense to keep them in games, no matter what the circumstances. This year’s defense has already cost the Nittany Lions one victory and without necessary improvements, they will cost the Lions many more.
Andy Madore is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.