October 6, 2012; University Park, PA, USA; Northwestern Wildcats running back Venric Mark (5) is tackled by Penn State Nittany Lions defensive tackle Jordan Hill (47) and linebacker Michael Mauti (42) at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-US PRESSWIRE

New Era, Same Dominating Penn State Defense

As Matt McGloin and the Nittany Lions came from 11 down on Saturday to pull out the biggest 4th quarter come-from-behind win that anyone in Happy Valley can remember, the defense was overlooked. As Matt McGloin picked apart the Wildcats defense for 22 points, the defense forced a three-and-out and a four-play turnover on downs against their explosive offense before forcing what was essentially a game-ending fumble on Northwestern’s last drive.

If the defense had their way, it wouldn’t have been that close to begin with. Despite Penn State allowing a season high 28 points on Saturday, that was hardly an indictment on Ted Roof and his unit.

Northwestern’s final touchdown came late in the 3rd quarter, without the defense ever stepping on the field. Alex Butterworth boomed a punt that Venric Mark returned 75 yards for a touchdown. Without that score, the comeback is much less dramatic. Two of the other touchdown’s allowed were following plays that put the defense in quite a bind. Jesse Della Valle muffed a punt that NW recovered inside the redzone, leading to a touchdown. On another, cornerback Stephon Morris was flagged for a 3rd down pass interference call that never actually happened. That kept a drive alive that ended in a Wildcat touchdown.

In all, Penn State repeatedly shut down the two-quarterback attack of Northwestern. Of their 13 drives, 9 consisted of 5 plays or fewer. This was a Northwestern team coming off of a 704 yard performance. They’ve scored at least 38 points three times and were averaging 467 yards per game. On Saturday, they gained 247 yards, nearly 100 less than their previous low.

Northwestern joins the other teams on the schedule who

Aside from the 7 points Illinois scored on Penn State, they’re averaging 24 points per game and have at least 14 in the other 5 contests.

Virginia’s 295 yards of total offense against Penn State was their lowest output of the year.

Even at their worst, in week one against Ohio, they weren’t bad. That was also the low point for the Bobcats offense. Their 24 points that day are the lowest they’ve scored this year and they’ve scored at least 37 points in 4 of their other 5 games.

Penn State is allowing 125 rushing yards per game, which on the surface sounds average. Take this into consideration: Northwestern (16th), Navy (17th) and Ohio (27th) each have top 30 rushing offenses and are averaging at least 211 yards per game.

Nationally, Penn State ranks 20th in points allowed (16 ppg). That’s good for 2nd in the conference, less than a point behind Michigan State. Their 14 sacks are also 2nd in the conference and they boast the best linebacker in the conference, Michael Mauti. He’s joined by 2011 All Big Ten linebacker, Gerald Hodges. Up front is Larry Johnson’s newest dominating defensive lineman, Jordan Hill, who has 28 tackles through 6 games. That’s more than every defensive lineman in the Big Ten except All-American candidate Johnathan Hankins, who has 31. Only a few have 20.

Despite all the changes around the Penn State program, one thing remains the same: Offenses better buckle up when facing the Nittany Lions’ defense.

For all of the latest on the Penn State Nittany Lions, follow VBR Lead Editor Tim Tolley on Twitter.


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  • PSUMatt2005

    Biggest thing to me has been the improvement in the secondary from the Ohio game through now. What was a huge weakness early on has really improved, especially in the last 2 games. There are still questions there, but the progression from those guys has really help solidify what was already a fantastic front 7.

    • AP

      I had no doubts that the front 7 would round into form sooner rather than later, but I had serious concerns about the secondary. The talent just really isn’t there, but these guys have stepped up big time. Let’s just hope they can keep from getting torched by some of the better upcoming teams. So far, so good.

      • http://twitter.com/TimTolleyFS Tim Tolley

        The good news is, there aren’t any great passing QBs on the schedule this year. Taylor Martinez and Braxton Miller are pretty good, but if you’re going to have a down year in the back four, THIS is the schedule you want to have.

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