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Penn State’s Pass Defense Holds Strong In Win Over Michigan

When Penn State football needed it the most, its defense came up strong to take down Michigan and improve to 1-5.

More specifically, Penn State’s pass defense was incredible against the Wolverines. The Nittany Lions, who were giving up 223 passing yards-per-game on average before Saturday, only allowed 112 yards through the air to Michigan. The defense didn’t record any interceptions but did break up four passes.

Penn State’s rushing defense was just about average, but it made big plays when they were needed the most. Ellis Brooks and Shaka Toney helped stuff Joe Milton at the line of scrimmage on 4th and one, allowing the offense to run the clock down and win the game.

Michigan only recorded two passing plays longer than 15 yards, and none longer than 30, which it had done in its previous four games. Penn State struggled all year limiting explosive plays, so it was refreshing to see the defense lock down some talented Wolverine receivers.

So, what changed this week to allow Penn State to be so dominant? Redshirt freshman cornerback Joey Porter Jr. says it had a lot to due with the team’s mindset.

“Everybody on the team wanted to change,” Porter said. “Nobody wanna be a loser, nobody wants to lose games, and we all have that mentality like ‘we need to change.’ And I feel like everybody stepped up this week and played a big role.”

It did take a team effort to stop the Wolverines, as 19 Nittany Lions recorded tackles on the afternoon. Linebacker Ellis Brooks led the way with six stops on the night and safety Jaquan Brisker had the most tackles in the secondary with five.

Another impressive part of Penn State’s pass defense was its ability to shut down Michigan’s air attack without a sack being recorded. No defender could get to the quarterback and only two hurries were logged.

Despite these struggles up front, Michigan only completed 46% of its passes. The Wolverines’ completion percentage heading into Saturday’s contest was nearly 60%. They also logged at least 300 passing yards in three of their previous five games, but only managed 112 against Penn State.

The defense wasn’t perfect by any means, as James Franklin recognized after the game, but its best performance against the pass was just enough to fend off Michigan.

“There’s gonna be a lot of things that we gotta get cleaned up and corrected, but we battled,” Franklin said. “We made plays when we needed to make plays…we just played gutsy, that’s who we’ve been. There were just so many examples today of who we’ve been for seven years now. We found ways to do it today.”

Penn State’s gritty play and perseverance throughout the contest — and really throughout the whole season, now — was the x-factor. Lots of folks thought the team game up on itself, but the Nittany Lions showed a lot of fight for being 0-5.

A new mindset and perhaps better preparation helped Penn State’s defense stand up to Michigan. Linebacker Brandon Smith, who recorded five tackles and a tackle-for-loss, explained how Penn State was able to make such a big improvement on defense.

“Really just our mindset throughout the week and our preparation,” Smith said. “We’ve always talked about it, we always preached about it, but today we actually was like ‘okay, enough is enough’ and went out and did it.”

James Franklin and his team were noticeably happier after the win, and seemed to be having a lot more fun. They talked a lot about building off such a big win, as no Penn State team has beaten Michigan in Ann Arbor since 2009.

The Nittany Lions will travel to Piscataway next Saturday to try and keep things rolling against Rutgers.

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About the Author

Ryan Parsons

Ryan is a junior business major from "Philadelphia" and is Onward State's social media manager. He writes about a lot of things. He's a huge Philly sports fan, back-to-back-to-back failed entrepreneur, and was on the Rachel Ray Show once. If you want to gain absolutely nothing, you can follow him on twitter @rjparsons9. Any "serious" inquiries can be sent to [email protected]

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