Sure, Penn State’s offense — one loaded with talent across the board — has been frustrating to watch at times, especially lately. But the Nittany Lion defensive unit that’s been gouged in two consecutive weeks stepped up against a Rutgers team with three conference victories to its name — and it did so in commanding fashion.
Rutgers’ issues began in through the air, and right off the bat it was clear Scarlet Knights QB Giovanni Rescigno was going to have a long day. He was held to 43 yards through the air on a mere seven completions and was constantly pressured by defenders in the backfield — and more often than not was forced to leave the pocket. It was an encouraging sign on all accounts by Penn State’s defense, especially when you consider how much the unit’s struggled with getting to the quarterback lately. Though there’s still work to be done, the Nittany Lions couldn’t muster much of anything in terms of quarterback pressure against Ohio State and Michigan State — and they paid dearly for it. Spartan quarterback Brian Lewerke looked like Tom Brady as he sliced and diced Penn State’s defense to the tune of 400 yards last weekend, making today’s noble showing a refreshing change.
“Obviously over the past couple weeks we had some setbacks,” DL Curtis Cothran said. “This week was a great way to get back on track for us.”
If Penn State is to clinch a coveted New Year’s Six bowl berth, then preventing teams from staying in games will be paramount down the stretch. This team can’t afford a setback to any of its final two opponents — and in all honesty needs to beat both Nebraska and Maryland to a pulp in order to put its best foot forward when bowl season rolls around.
Up front, one of the team’s most important linemen — especially now after injuries to Torrence Brown and Ryan Buchholz — has been tasked with a larger load. You might’ve noticed how DL Kevin Givens lines up seemingly at every position on the line, and for good reason: he’s getting the job done. “It’s definitely huge, because each different position has their own job on each play,” Cothran said of his teammate. “So for him to be able to hone in and grasp everything — you know, what the ends are doing and what the tackles are doing — is crazy.”
With a Nebraska offense that ranks fifth in the Big Ten for total offense, the Nittany Lions can’t lose momentum. A key focal point as the team’s date with the Cornhuskers draws near must be timing blitzes correctly. Late pressure cost the team in a big way against Michigan State, and it was evident again early on against the Scarlet Knights. Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee could get hot at an inopportune time for Penn State in a game it must win handily.
At the end of the day, today’s defensive progress was a much needed breath of fresh air after two down weeks. This is the Penn State defense we’ve grown to know and love, and hopefully the defense that stays around for the rest of the season.