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Penn State’s Defensive Toughness Shines In Gritty Win Over Wisconsin

Being on the field for 41 minutes of game time is a bit of a tall order. But luckily for Penn State football, the Nittany Lions’ tough, gritty defense — mainly led by Jaquan Brisker — was up for the task.

Wisconsin ran a total of 95 plays at Camp Randall Stadium Saturday afternoon, while Penn State only snapped the ball 51 times. The Badgers ran the ball 58 times and gained nearly 230 yards on the ground.

Needless to say, you could’ve expected Penn State’s defense to be tired by the end of the game. But despite the Badgers’ grueling offense attack, the Nittany Lions bent but didn’t break.

“We’re well-conditioned,” linebacker Ellis Brooks said after the game. “Our strength staff, Dwight Galt, we work for moments like this, we work for times like this to lay it all out on the line consecutively.”

And that’s exactly what Penn State did in the home stretch. Down just six points in the fourth quarter, Wisconsin had two big opportunities to take a late lead over the Nittany Lions. But safeties Brisker and Ji’ayir Brown both came up with interceptions towards the end of the game.

While Brisker’s interception felt like a bigger moment during the game, Brown’s was the one that actually sealed the deal. Brown and Brisker also finished with five and four tackles, respectively, along with their interceptions.

“I thought both Brisker and [Brown] were fantastic today,” head coach James Franklin said Saturday. “A bunch of playmaking and production out of our safeties, which we haven’t had in a long time.”

Brisker’s performance was on the backdrop of an injury-riddled afternoon. The safety was consistently going down on the field and was missing for multiple series at a time. He said after the game he was mostly battling cramps, which makes sense as he was often seen riding the stationary bike on the sideline.

Brown had his fair share of injury scares, too, but both guys buckled in and locked down when it mattered the most. Players like defensive end Arnold Ebiketie battled injuries throughout the game, too.

“It’s a testament to who they are, and their character, and their work ethic, and the love they have for this team,” safety Jonathan Sutherland said. “They’re willing to sacrifice their body for the greater good.”

Another factor in Penn State’s late-game toughness was the depth amongst the defense. While it was admirable guys like Brisker and Brown acted like warriors, the Nittany Lions still needed guys to step up in their absence.

Sutherland, along with defensive end/linebacker hybrid Jesse Luketa were among the reserves to make their presence felt. Sutherland finished with seven tackles, while Luketa had five and generally impressed while debuting his hybrid role.

“They’re very important to the defense. It’s always “next man up” mentality,” Brisker said. “They stepped up huge. Whether Luketa was at d-end or ‘backer, he plays his role really well.”

When Brooks was disqualified for targeting in the third quarter, Luketa’s role became even more important. That was just another hurdle the Nittany Lions’ tough defense had to jump to get to the finish line.

Whether you agree or not on the penalty that knocked Brooks out of the game, Penn State was forced to adjust in a high-pressure situation. With Wisconsin marching the ball down the field, it sure felt like the targeting call could’ve been a momentum changer.

But whether it was injuries, fatigue, or targeting, Penn State’s defense was able to buckle down and do what it had to do to leave Madison 1-0.

“We’re blessed to have depth on this team,” Brooks said. “We have great guys behind us, we have a motto that if you can’t give your all, tap your helmet, and the next guy will come in and give his all.”

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About the Author

Ryan Parsons

Ryan is a senior business and journalism major from "Philadelphia" and is Onward State's social media manager. He writes about a lot of things, including football and hoops. If you want to gain absolutely nothing, you can follow him on Twitter @rjparsons9. Say hi via email at [email protected]

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