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
Penn State Nittany Lions cornerback Joey Porter Jr. (Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports) /

Defensive Backs

Grade: B+

The secondary caught a lot of flack from Penn State Football fans this season, but when you break it down the group was actually very good, and did it’s best work with a lot of youth on the field.

The Nittany Lions rank third in the conference in passing yards allowed with just about 197 yards a game, a tick under 200. Only two other teams held opponents to under 200 yards a game passing for some perspective.

The secondary really improved down the stretch run of the season and was a big part of the strong finish for Franklin’s team. Over their four game winning streak, the defensive secondary allowed only 170 yards per game through the air, and held three of those opponents under 130 yards.

Safety play was a huge concern early on, with seniors Lamont Wade and Jaquan Brisker seemingly always out of position and trailing a receiver after big plays. It improved as the season went on, and Jaquan Brisker even earned first team All-American honors via Pro Football Focus. Wade was better but still regressed from what we saw in 2019, a guy who was all over the field making big plays. His one interception this season came in week 1 against the Hoosiers, but felt like it was down hill from there.

Senior cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields did not play the final six games of the season, and in his absence the young cornerbacks on this team really stepped up. Joey Porter Jr was arguably Penn State football’s defensive MVP, as he was great in coverage and even recorded a sack. He was warded Big Ten freshman of the week honors for this performance against Rutgers in week 7. Fellow youngsters Keaton Ellis and Daequan Hardy were also very good.

The Nittany Lions will no doubt be left thin at safety heading into 2021, but have to feel very good about where they are at cornerback heading into the future.

Next. Penn State final position grades: Offense. dark