Penn State Football 2020 season position grades: Defense

Penn State Nittany Lions linebacker Brandon Smith (Image via York Daily Record)
Penn State Nittany Lions linebacker Brandon Smith (Image via York Daily Record) /
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Penn State Football capped off their 2020 season in style Saturday night, defeating Illinois 56-21 for their fourth straight victory.

Penn StateFfootball will not participate in a bowl game this season, meaning the offseason officially begins, putting behind them a 4-5 season, their first losing season since 2004.

The feeling around James Franklin’s program though however is mostly positive as the Nittany Lions finish a weird season on a four game winning streak, looking more like the team that was preseason top. 10 instead of the one that started the season 0-5 for the first time in program history.

The defense dealt with a big blow in August, when all-everything junior linebacker Micah Parsons decided to opt out of the season due to covid-19 concerns and enter his name into the NFL draft. Losing a player of Parsons caliber is never easy, but magnified when it is only weeks before the season, leaving defensive coordinator Brent Pry short on time to try and scheme up ways to make up for his absence.

It was an up and down year for Pry’s unit, who at times looked dominant while sometimes looking lost. An early season meltdown in Bloomington followed up with a visit from Justin Fields and company set an ugly tone for the season. Like the rest of the team though, the defense rebounded fairly well and finished the season allowing only 18 points per game over Penn State football’s four game winning streak.

The Nittany Lions defense finished the season ranked sixth in the Big Ten in points allowed per game(27.7) and third in yards per game(329). Much like the offense, a few young players that will be back in 2021 stood out, most notably sophomore linebacker Brandon Smith and redshirt freshman cornerback Joey Porter Jr.

Here is a deep dive on defensive positional grades for the 2020 season for Penn State football:

Defensive Line

Grade: B-

The defensive line was not only talented, but deep at all four positions and we got to see a lot of that depth on display this season.

Penn State football defensive ends Jayson Oweh and Shaka Toney were named to the first team all Big Ten teams, despite neither of them having the sack production many expected they would in 2020. Toney, in his second year as a starter collected five sacks while Oweh, a redshirt sophomore did not record a sack this season but did have six and a half tackles for loss. Oweh figures to headed to the NFL draft this April, so many thought he was in for a big last season in the blue and white.

At defensive tackle we saw the depth on display, as Hakeem Beamon and Fred Hansard played very productive snaps in reserve of starters Antonio Shelton and PJ Mustipher. Mustipher, a junior, led defensive tackles with 35 total tackles while Shelton led the group with three and a half sacks. It was also promising to see young guy like Dvon Ellies get valuable playing time and even recorded his first career sack.

The unit was not dominant all year the way Penn State football needed or hoped, but it was solid and productive. Too many times quarterbacks had way to much time in the pocket, while on a few occasions they also struggled to stop the run, see the Iowa and Ohio State games.

The group could look a lot different next season with graduating seniors and guys leaving for the NFL, but the depth along this defensive front should keep them solid once again.