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The Toughest Defenses Penn State Football Will Face In 2019

Despite losing three-year starting quarterback Trace McSorley to the NFL, Penn State football fans still have plenty of reason to be excited about a revamped offense coming in to the 2019 season.

At his Big Ten media day press conference last week, head coach James Franklin cited several returning players who will likely add plenty of value to the Nittany Lions’ offensive scheme. Wide receiver KJ Hamler and tight end Pat Freiermuth were among the number of players who were recognized by the head coach along with probable starting quarterback Sean Clifford.

Even with a fast, young, and exciting offense, the Nittany Lions will still be challenged against several top notch Big Ten defenses throughout this 2019 season. With that in mind, we decided to take a closer look at some of the best defensive units that Penn State will face this season.

Iowa, Week 6

This is going to be a difficult match up for Penn State on several levels. First of all, the Nittany Lions will travel to Iowa City to take on the Hawkeyes in Kinnick Stadium. Do we even need to remind you of what happened the last time Penn State played at Iowa’s daunting home field?

Even with a significant home field advantage, the Hawkeyes already possess one of the top defenses in the Big Ten. Junior defensive end AJ Epenesa is undoubtedly the Hawkeyes’ leader after leading the Big Ten with 10.5 sacks in 2018. He and senior linebacker Kristian Welch will likely be tough to stop from wreaking havoc in the Penn State backfield.

Iowa’s biggest weakness comes at secondary, so if Sean Clifford and the rest of his receivers can consistently connect on passes, the Nittany Lions could poke some holes in an otherwise strong defensive unit.

Michigan, Week 7

The Nittany Lions get to return home after their visit to Iowa City, but it’s for a date with Michigan. The Wolverines had a dominant defensive season in 2018, and they have a good chance at having another successful year despite losing plenty of talented players like Rashan Gary and Devin Bush.

Michigan’s defensive line is anchored by Aidan Hutchinson and Donovan Jeter — two fairly young, but large human beings who plan on stuffing any run game they face this season. Junior Ben Mason will also step into a much larger role for the Wolverines’ defensive line.

This solid run defense could put pressure on Penn State’s young gunslinger, who might be forced to make some difficult throws in order to move the ball down the field.

As for its pass defense, Michigan is led by defensive back Josh Metellus. The senior finished his 2018 campaign with three interceptions and 14 pass breakups. As the Wolverines top cover man, he’ll likely make for an entertaining matchup with speedy wide receiver KJ Hamler.

Michigan State, Week 8

The Nittany Lion offense will clearly have a tough three weeks in the middle of their season, which will be capped off with a trip to East Lansing.

The Spartans may have the best defensive line that Penn State will face in 2019. Star linemen Kenny Willekes and Raequan Williams both had an opportunity to be drafted to the NFL after dominant 2018 seasons, but they opted to return for another season with the Spartans.

Willekes was named the Big Ten defensive lineman of the year after a 2018 campaign in which he finished with 8.5 sacks and 78 total tackles. Williams was named to the All-Big Ten Team in 2018, finishing his year with two sacks, a forced fumble, and 52 total tackles.

This intimidating duo will be tough to stop for a Penn State offensive line coming to the end of the thickest part of its 2019 schedule.

Ohio State, Week 11

On paper, the Buckeyes have been the toughest matchup for Penn State over the past few seasons, and 2019 will likely be no different.

Ohio State is led by junior defensive end Chase Young, who led the Buckeyes with 9.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss in 2018. Young, who will likely be one of the best players in the Big Ten in 2019, made one of those tackles for loss on a fairly big play in Beaver Stadium last season.

Aside from Young, Robert Landers and Jonathan Cooper will add value as run stoppers, while Jordan Fuller will lead the secondary. Despite having a down year last season, expect Ohio State’s defense to play tough against the Nittany Lions, especially with home field advantage on its side.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a junior majoring in digital and print journalism and is Onward State's sports editor. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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