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James Franklin Has High Expectations For Defense Moving Forward

Penn State football’s 2020 season hasn’t gotten off to an ideal start.

In case you’ve missed the past few weeks, the Nittany Lions currently hold an 0-2 record and are unranked this week for the first time since October 2016. Penn State’s losses have come from talented teams in No. 13 Indiana and No. 3 Ohio State, but James Franklin expects his team to bounce back the rest of the way, specifically on defense.

Brent Pry’s group didn’t necessarily play poorly against Indiana, as it allowed the Hoosiers just 211 total yards and a modest 41 yards on the ground. Things changed against a talented Buckeyes offense, however.

En route to a 38-25 victory at Beaver Stadium Saturday, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields dominated with 318 yards through the air and four touchdowns. Ryan Day’s team finished with a gaudy 526 total yards, including 110 yards on the ground from Master Teague III.

While the Nittany Lions have yet to have that dominant defensive performance, Franklin thinks things will change when Jesse Luketa plays a full game. The junior linebacker, who got ejected in the second half in Bloomington on a targeting call, was forced to miss the first half against Ohio State due to the penalty.

Luketa had three total tackles before his penalty against the Hoosiers and managed to finish second on the team with eight tackles against Ohio State after playing only in the second half.

“It’s hard because we’ve had multiple linebackers out,” Franklin said. “When you have Jesse [Luketa], who we think had been playing at a really high level, and to have him out for the second half of game one and the first half of game two, it had an impact. There’s no doubt about it.”

Despite Luketa’s partial absence, the linebackers have managed to be Penn State’s most productive position group on the defense. Ellis Brooks led the defense with 11 total tackles, including one for a loss, against Ohio State, while Brandon Smith had five total tackles including a sack against the Buckeyes.

“I think Ellis has done some good things, we’re excited about Brandon,” Franklin said. “I thought Brandon took a big step in game two.”

While the linebackers have still managed even with the loss of Micah Parsons, Penn State’s secondary proved to be a different story against the Buckeyes. Fields clearly exposed the unit as he picked out open wide receivers throughout the night threw just six incompletions.

Even with the ugly performance under their belts, Penn State’s safeties and cornerbacks have plenty of time to bounce back. That’s especially significant considering the Nittany Lions likely won’t play a quarterback as good as Fields for the rest of the year.

“Lamont [Wade] and Brisker, and you got Sutherland who’s played as well,” Franklin said. “I think we’re capable of playing at a higher level. Lamont’s played a lot of football for us, at this point Brisker’s played a lot of football for us, and so has Sutherland. I know they have very high expectations, and their coaches do as well. I think you’re gonna see those guys plays extremely well for the remainder of the season.

“We feel like those guys got a lot of ability, so we’re expecting big things from them this week against Maryland and for the remainder of the season,” Franklin added.

The group clearly struggled against Fields, but they limited Michael Penix Jr. and the Hoosiers to just 170 yards through the air. Now they’ll get a chance to set the record straight against Maryland and quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa. The younger brother of the Miami Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa had a slow start against Northwestern but managed 394 yards through the air and five total touchdowns against Minnesota.

“I thought he played extremely well in week two,” Franklin said. ” You watch that Minnesota game it’s hard not to be impressed. You look at the completion percentage, decision making, his ability to make plays with his feet, as well as extending plays in the pocket. It was impressive.”

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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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