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Where Is The Love? Brent Pry’s Defense Is One Of The Nation’s Best

While Joe Moorhead has raked in a lot of the credit for Penn State’s ascension back to the top of the college football world, Brent Pry’s defense is playing inspired football. Penn State finished last season with the 14th-ranked defense in the S&P adjusted rankings, and look well on its way to continuing that success.

Yet, this defense doesn’t get the love it deserves. All season long, this unit has quietly performed in a way that you could argue places them among the country’s best. Maybe it’s because the team has the most talented player in the country building his Heisman campaign. Or it’s the gutsy quarterback whose heroics may take the spotlight away from the defense.

Whatever it is that may be taking the attention of the Blue and White fanbase, it’s time to appreciate how impressive the unit led by Pry has been. The defensive coordinator has helped groom several players into stars for the Nittany Lions this season.

Player Growth

Exploding onto the scene last year, Marcus Allen has been the only player to receive remotely any national praise this season. But beyond this star safety, the group is underrated. Jason Cabinda missed some time in 2016 and his numbers didn’t reflect his remarkable ability. However, the linebacker has become the leader of the defense, and is trailing only Allen for the team lead in tackles with 21.

Marcus Allen has reason to believe that he’s best safety in the country. (Photo: Alex Bauer)

Shareef Miller, wearing Torrence Brown’s number, showed out in primetime in Iowa City. The defensive end has breakout star potential written all over him. His career path might even mirror that of Carl Nassib, a fellow late bloomer who became an All-American and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year as a senior for the Nittany Lions in 2015.

Grant Haley continues to be in the right place at the right time for momentum-changing plays. The cornerback intercepted a pass on Pitt’s first drive to set up Penn State’s opening touchdown. Haley also recovered a huge fumble forced by Allen against the Hawkeyes on Sunday. He even added another pick in the blowout of Georgia State.

Beyond just the individual growth of Penn State’s defense, Pry has the team ranking among the country’s best across the board.

Grant Haley came close to returning this pick to the house against Pitt. (Photo: Alex Bauer)


Penn State leads the country in points allowed per play (0.115), first half points allowed (2.5), and yards allowed per points allowed (33.2).

Also, the Nittany Lions rank highly in more common defensive stats. The defense is second in points allowed per game (8.2). They rank third in average scoring margin (+32.2) and in red zone defense scoring percentage (50%).

Penn State ranks fourth in yards per play allowed (3.8). The Nittany Lions round out the top five nationally for yards per completion (9.2) and yards per attempt (5.1).

Yet, the team’s defensive S&P ranking sits at 12th currently. With the other high rankings in all of the other stats, this argument can seriously be made:

Penn State has one of the nation’s elite defenses.

This defense has the perfect combination of star power, depth, and experience that can make them an elite unit. (Photo: Alex Bauer)

The defense has crazy depth, with players like Cam Brown, Brandon Smith, Kevin Givens, and others coming off the bench. Many of these guys played extensively in 2016, and a drop off in quality doesn’t exist from the first to the second unit. Furthermore, several of these players are versatile and can play multiple positions, creating consistency across the entire defense

Penn State’s defense has star power. More specifically, Allen has quickly become the most viral defensive player in the country. The safety is drawing a lot of buzz for his style on and off the field and his skills in the secondary. Cabinda looks like another “Linebacker U” product that can be an all-conference performer. Miller and Haley have produced memorable plays already this season for the Nittany Lions.

Saturday’s game saw Penn State give up 46 percent of their total yards allowed to Iowa on their three touchdowns – two broke Akrum Wadley scores and the touchdown pass off of McSorley’s second quarter interception.

Otherwise, the defense was phenomenal, yielding just 147 yards for the rest of the game.

This experience, this chemistry, and the cohesion between the coaches and this defense right now haven’t been seen in Happy Valley since 2009. As of now, Pry deserves serious consideration as an early contender for the Frank Broyles Award. The trophy is handed out annually to the nation’s top assistant coach, and Moorhead was a 2016 nominee.

Many forget that in addition to his role as defensive coordinator, Pry is associate head coach – not Moorhead. It’s time to give him the recognition that JoeMo received.

Folks, it’s time to talk about how this defense is growing into one of the nation’s elite. It’ll be interesting to see how they fare against Hoosier gunslinger Richard Lagow this Saturday in Beaver Stadium.

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About the Author

Mitch Stewart

Mitch is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism from Roanoke, Virginia. In addition to being an editor for Onward State, Mitch loves to watch sports, talk about sports on PSU CommRadio, and tries his hardest to avoid the agony that being a Mets fan brings. To contact Mitch, feel free to send him an e-mail at [email protected], and if you really don't value your social media accounts, follow him and his garbage opinions on Twitter @mitchystew.


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