Penn State’s Defense Regains Depth, Allows Three Points In B1G Opener
In case you haven’t heard, Penn State football took out Rutgers 28-3 in front of #103kStrong on Saturday night. On one side of the ball, three players combined for four rushing touchdowns and all of the Nittany Lions’ scoring. On the other, oft-overlooked side of the ball, the Nittany Lions’ defense outplayed its opponents start to finish.
Questions abounded after the season opener against Temple when it was announced that projected starting linebacker and leader of the defense, Nyeem Wartman-White, would miss the rest of the season. Before this game, safety Jordan Lucas announced that he would wear jersey No. 5 this season to honor the sidelined Wartman-White. Also announced before the game were the much-anticipated returns of Brandon Bell and Grant Haley. While Wartman-White’s loss can’t be ignored, he can be replaced by committee. And judging by the results of this game, it looks like that’s what’s happening.
“[Wartman-White] has such a positive attitude, his predicament, he’s already a leader being a senior and the oldest guy in our group, and just continues that role,” Bell said after the game. Wartman-White was out on the field before the game helping his team warm up. This is a cliche that fits nearly every team, but it’s especially true of this Penn State team — they all play for each other.
The unit’s cohesiveness off the field is only rivaled by its on-field results. In this game, Rutgers totaled 43 yards rushing (Penn State had 330 — but that’s not what this is about). Rutgers did throw for 251 yards through the air, 110 more than Penn State, but still totaled less than 300 yards total.
“It’s just the way we practice all throughout the week, do what the coaches ask of us,” Bell said. “We’re always confident, our practices are always up-tempo and they’re actually pretty hard. The coaches like to make practices hard so that it’s easier when the game comes.”
Marcus Allen led the team in solo tackles with seven, and was followed by Jordan Lucas. After the safeties were linebackers Bell and Troy Reeder, who is fresh off of a breakout performance in last week’s matchup with Buffalo. Linebacker U’s future, if this game was any indication, is in good hands.
“Troy Reeder is a very insatiable guy and he also studies a lot, so when you put those two together… He’s smart out there, he knows where to be, and he’s a football player,” Bell said. “We all saw it last Saturday — his first start in Beaver Stadium. He didn’t come out of nowhere, but he made a big splash.”
But Bell’s impact isn’t lost on himself, either. A solid performance against Temple was cut short and he was unable to play against Buffalo. Now, he’s back to being a key performer in Bob Shoop’s squad.
“It’s my first game in 2015 back in Beaver Stadium, so I was pumped up,” Bell said. “We love it here. Not just here, but when you’re playing football you only get so many opportunities… 12, maybe 15 a year. We just try to have fun every time.”
And at the end of the day, the game wasn’t about any one player. They all played together, they gave up fewer than 300 yards, and they allowed one field goal. They forced three fumbles and picked off two passes. And as the team gets more experience together and gets its health back, the sky’s the limit for the dominant squad.
“It’s always good to get our depth back, I was glad to be out there and glad Grant had a chance to get out there,” Bell said. “I think we’re all getting to gel a little better.”