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Penn State Football’s Secondary Faces Latest Challenge In Ohio State, Justin Fields

After a brutal loss to Minnesota, Penn State football bounced back to pick up a 34-27 victory over Indiana. Despite the win, the Nittany Lions’ secondary struggled mightily for the second straight game and continued to be an area of concern for Brent Pry’s defense.

After being absolutely torn to shreds by Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan, the Nittany Lions were also picked apart by Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey. Morgan and Ramsey combined to throw for 710 yards and four touchdowns. On top of that, they completed an absurd 80% of their passes. To put in perspective how ridiculous that completion percentage is, not one quarterback in college football has a completion percentage of 80% or higher this year.

The secondary faced the top three receivers in receiving yards in the Big Ten — Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson of Minneosta and Indiana’s Whop Philyor. Bateman destroyed the Penn State secondary with seven catches for a ridiculous 203 yards and a touchdown. Johnson accumulated seven catches for 104 yards and a score. On the other hand, the Nittany Lions did a fairly decent job at containing Philyor, who only brought in two catches for 50 yards. Instead, Ty Fryfogle took advantage of the Penn State secondary with caught five passes for 131 yards and a touchdown.

“The stuff you can’t live with is a blown coverage from an assignment standpoint or not using the right technique or fundamentals,” Franklin said. “We haven’t helped ourselves. There’s been some times when we’ve blown coverages, but that happens with everybody. We’ve been unfortunate the times we’ve blown coverage, we’ve gotten burned. We’ve gotten caught for it, and we have to eliminate those things as coaches and players.”

While the pass defense was never great, it wasn’t nearly as bad for the first eight games of the season. In the first eight games, Penn State allowed just one 300-yard passing game: Pitt’s Kenny Pickett. Furthermore, this was the first time all season that Penn State gave up four passing touchdowns over a two-game span, with the previous high being just two.

These past two games have buried the Penn State passing defense at the bottom of the Big Ten. They have given up the third-most passing yards in the Big Ten, with only Maryland and Rutgers giving up more. The 2,403 passing yards given up equates to 240.3 yards per game — a total that ranks 84th out of 130 teams in all of college football.

It doesn’t get any easier for the Nittany Lions with a road matchup with No. 2 Ohio State looming.

Ohio State is led by star quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Justin Fields, who originally committed to Penn State. He’s been phenomenal this year, completing 69% of his passes — good for third in the Big Ten — and throwing for 2,164 yards. The most impressive stat about Fields, however, has to be his insane 31-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Fields’ 31 passing touchdowns are the fourth most in all of college football. If all that wasn’t enough, he has the third-highest passer rating in all of college football at 191.8 — a total that easily leads the Big Ten.

Penn State is going to have its hands full facing Justin Fields. If the Nittany Lions don’t tighten things up in the secondary, they’re going to suffer the same fate as the past two weeks.

James Franklin knows the challenge his team faces in Fields after getting to know him during the recruiting process.

“We know him really well,” Franklin said. “He’s done great things for them, and his touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio is impressive. This is another challenge — a team that throws the ball extremely well. First of all, you have to give Minnesota and Indiana credit, but we also haven’t helped ourselves with blown coverages.”

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

Gabe is a sophomore majoring in journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He grew up in Lindenhurst, New York, and has had the absolute misfortune of rooting for the Jets, Mets, and Knicks. If you want to see his bad sports takes, follow him on Twitter @gabeangieri and direct all hate mail and death threats to [email protected]


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