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Penn State Defense Puts New-Found ‘Closer’s Mentality’ To Use Against Michigan

Penn State football defensive coordinator Brent Pry said that he and his players talked about finishing and developing a “closer’s mentality” throughout the offseason. The unit put that to use on the grandest possible stage on Saturday night.

The Nittany Lions took down Michigan 28-21 under White Out conditions at Beaver Stadium despite a huge late push from the Wolverines’ offense. Shea Patterson and co. marched all the way down to Penn State’s 3-yard line before the defense stood firm and forced Michigan into a turnover on downs.

“I said it in the beginning of the season: We’re going to be a completely different defense,” sophomore linebacker Micah Parsons, who led all players with 14 tackles on Saturday, said postgame. “It’s great that we went 1-0 tonight, and we’re going to continue this retribution. We’re going to finish games this year, and we made a big [point] of that in the offseason.”

Parsons, of course, was alluding to the “Retribution Year” he tweeted about immediately following the 2019 Citrus Bowl, which Penn State lost to Kentucky. The retribution year is a subtle ode to Michigan’s “Revenge Tour” that included a blowout of Penn State in 2018, but the Nittany Lions clearly vindicated last season’s defeat at the Big House.

In the offseason, Pry said that he wants to make sure his players “have the right mindset” when they have a late lead to protect. This year, Penn State is 2-for-2 in terms of making late stands, including Saturday’s win and the team’s week 3 victory over Pitt at Beaver Stadium. The Panthers were also stuffed at the goal line on a drive that ended with a missed chip-shot field goal before getting one more chance to tie the game as time expired.

On Saturday, junior safety Lamont Wade broke up a Shea Patterson pass to Ronnie Bell, who ran a slant route right into the end zone, on 4th and goal from the Penn State 3-yard line. A 10-yard reception by Erick All set up Michigan with 1st and goal from the seven before a pair of short runs moved the offense to the 3-yard line.

One of those runs was nearly a touchdown by Shea Patterson, who would’ve scored if not for an excellent tackle by Tariq Castro-Fields. Patterson’s third-down pass was batted down by Jesse Luketa before he couldn’t connect with Bell on fourth down.

Wade said he put his money on Michigan running a slant route based on what the Wolverines’ tendencies were. He said Michigan would tend to run “seven-cut” — or corner — routes in red-zone situations, and he expected them to get away from their tendencies and change things up late.

Although Xs and Os were crucial to his game-changing play, Wade attributes most of his team’s success in closing games to the fact that he’s currently part of the closest brotherhood he’s ever experienced.

“This team is tough. This team is together. It’s a brotherhood,” he said postgame. “I feel like that’s something that came from winter workouts. Not quitting when you felt tired during those workouts, not quitting running those hills in the summer — we did it together in the summer and the winter. That’s how we’re doing it right now. We just rely on each other in that way.”

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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