Brent Pry, Penn State Defense Plan On Developing ‘Closer’s Mentality’ In 2019

Ohio State 2017. Michigan State 2017. Ohio State 2018. Michigan State 2018.

Over the last few years, late-game meltdowns have characterized and killed Penn State football’s postseason hopes. And as Brent Pry enters his fourth season as Penn State’s defensive coordinator, correcting that tendency is at the top of his agenda. This offseason, he’s been working to instill a new mindset among his players: closing out teams.

Despite allowing just 20.5 points per game in 2018, the fourth-best mark in the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions have given up their fair share of leads over the past few seasons.

In its loss to Ohio State last September, Penn State held a 26-14 lead with eight minutes remaining in the game before its defense allowed the Buckeyes to drive down the field with ease for two straight touchdowns.

Just one game later, the Nittany Lions held a late 17-14 lead over Michigan State, but the Spartans drove down the field with less than a minute remaining to score a touchdown and hand Penn State its second loss in a row. Penn State also managed to lose plenty of late leads in 2017, as the Nittany Lions led by 15 points in the second half of the Rose Bowl against USC and 18 against Ohio State, only to lose both games.

Penn State football fans remember these losses. Pry certainly does, and he didn’t shy away from talking about them at Penn State’s media day earlier this month, discussing the mindset he wants his players to have entering the 2019 campaign.

“We’ve talked on our side of the football about being finishers. A closer’s mentality,” Pry said. “But more than anything, I want to make sure we have the right mindset. To have a lead in the fourth quarter and give it up is upsetting for all of us.”

The Nittany Lions certainly have the talent to take their defense to the next level, including linebacker Cam Brown. Pry discussed how the senior is expected to be a leader for the defense in the final minutes of close games. 

“Cam Brown immediately following the Citrus Bowl in the locker room, kind of addressed the kids, addressed the team and talked about that type of trait, being a finisher and where we fell short and what we could have accomplished if we had closed out some games,” Pry said. “It’s been something that has been talked about in our room since the Bowl game.”

If Penn State’s defense can find a way to shut teams down in the fourth quarter, it’s hard to imagine it won’t find success in 2019. Blowing leads has clearly been Penn State’s Achilles heel over the past few seasons, and eliminating that issue will help James Franklin’s program take another step toward becoming elite.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. 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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