Penn State Football: revisiting some preseason bold predictions for the defense

AUBURN, ALABAMA - SEPTEMBER 17: Members of the Penn State Nittany Lions during their game against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on September 17, 2022 in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)
AUBURN, ALABAMA - SEPTEMBER 17: Members of the Penn State Nittany Lions during their game against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on September 17, 2022 in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images) /
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Despite many departures from last year’s unit, the Penn State Football defense has been wildly impressive so far and looks to once again be one of the best in the Big Ten.

Even with all those new faces all over the field on defense–and even at defensive coordinator–I did my best back in training camp to make four bold predictions for the Nittany Lions’ defense for the 2022 campaign. Click here to read that preseason article.

Yesterday, I revisited my preseason bold predictions for the offense, and today, I’ll do the same for the defense.

As I mention in the offensive one, these were meant to be bold predictions, not just predictions. They’re supposed to stretch the imagination and be tough to accomplish. If you’re perfect with your bold predictions, they’re likely not very bold.

As a reminder, we’ll rate the current likelihood of each preseason bold prediction coming true on a scale of 1-10: with 1 being almost no shot it happens at this rate, and 10 being it’s essentially a lock.

Here is a look back at my preseason bold predictions for the Penn State Football defense in 2022, followed by two new ones for the remainder of the season.

Preseason bold prediction #1 – Curtis Jacobs reaches triple digit tackles

Similar to my first bold prediction on the offensive side, this one isn’t looking good.

Just shy of the halfway point, Curtis Jacobs has only collected 17 total tackles, so he’s got a long way to go to reach 100 on the year.

Even assuming Jacobs plays in a bowl game, that would still mean he would have to average over 10 tackles per game the rest of the way to reach the century mark. Now, I anticipate his production will increase as the schedule gets more difficult, mainly because he’ll spend more time on the field, but regardless, accumulating 83 tackles over the course of the rest of the season is just far too much.

I would be shocked if it happens.

Likelihood: 1

Preseason bold prediction #2 – Penn State Football has a first team All-Big Ten selection at all three levels of the defense

This one is looking much more possible than the last, though the biggest question mark lies at linebacker.

If this prediction was at two of three levels of the defense, I would give this a 10 with minimal explanation and move on. Joey Porter Jr. and Ji’Ayir Brown have met, and perhaps are even exceeding expectations on the back end; and up front, there have been a number of outstanding players who could make a case for a first team all-conference selection with a strong second half.

PJ Mustipher–a second team selection a year ago–is settling in off of his ACL injury and had his best game of the year so far against Northwestern last week when he led the Nittany Lions with eight total tackles. Chop Robinson has made an immediate impact after transferring over from Maryland, Adisa Isaac has had a good start to the year as he too returned from injury, and Amin Vanover has been a regular disrupter in the backfield.

At linebacker, however, there was really only one true candidate for a first team selection coming into the season, and that was Curtis Jacobs. The Nittany Lions’ weak side linebacker has not played bad, but he hasn’t quite had the level of production to this point as I thought he might. If he turns it on in the second half and plays to his potential, he has a shot.

Abdul Carter has also impressed early, and if he sees enough playing time, could be a dark horse for a first team selection as well.

An All-Big Ten first teamer at two of the three levels of the defense seems incredibly likely right now, but linebacker remains up in the air and keeps the likelihood of this bold prediction coming true a little lower than it otherwise could be.

Likelihood: 4

Preseason bold prediction #3 – Penn State Football accumulates at least 40 sacks as a team

This one is looking like the best of the bunch right now as far as the defense is concerned. Through just five games, the Nittany Lions have generated 13 total sacks. With more than half of the regular season remaining–plus a bowl game–40 is well within reach for Manny Diaz and his defense.

Penn State’s 13 sacks is tied for fourth in the Big Ten and tied for 32nd nationally, but in terms of QB pressures, they’re the best in country according to Pro Football Focus.

The optimist in me believes that this is a sign that the Nittany Lions are soon going to start getting home a lot more, and the sack total will skyrocket. The more confidence some of Penn State’s young pass rushers gain, the more dominant they will be.

I also feel like Manny Diaz has even more tricks up his sleeve that he hasn’t yet shown, and with a bye week now for him to implement some more exotic looks up front, third and long when the Nittany Lions are on defense could be quite the show for Penn State Football fans.

Quite frankly, I would be shocked if this prediction doesn’t come true, even though there is still quite a way to go to reach 40.

Likelihood: 8

Preseason bold prediction #4 – Penn State Football finishes top 10 in the country in takeaways

Right now, this is another preseason bold prediction that is looking pretty good, as the Nittany Lions are currently tied for ninth in the country in takeaways through five weeks.

It’ll certainly become more difficult to hold onto that spot as the opposing offenses get better, but I’m still quite optimistic about this one.

Not only is Penn State Football currently tied for ninth in the country with their 12 takeaways, but they sit at that spot despite not forcing any turnovers in the first two games. They started off slow, but they’ve since turned it on and have forced 12 turnovers in the past three games.

That tells me that the defense is starting to gel and find its groove, and those high turnover numbers are likely to continue. Plus, if the defensive front continues to get more and more pressure and their sack totals begin to increase as I discussed above, that will likely force opposing quarterbacks to be rushed more often and force more throws, which in turn should result in plenty more takeaways for the Nittany Lions.

The toughest part about this prediction is that it is somewhat reliant on the performances of other teams. Penn State could continue to force a ton of turnovers, but if some other teams across the country force even more, it makes things difficult.

Regardless, I still like this one’s chances.

Likelihood: 7