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Penn State’s Defense Imposes Will Over Villanova In Dominant Performance

Whether Penn State football is playing Alabama or Akron, it treats every opponent the same.

This “1-0” mentality the team carries might sound a little bit like coachspeak, but the Nittany Lions’ defense truly embodied it against Villanova.

The Wildcats managed just three points against Penn State’s starters and only scraped together 52 offensive yards in the first half. While head coach James Franklin said Penn State was “complacent” this week at practice, the defense seemed to keep the same intensity it’s had all year.

“That’s the expectation,” defensive end Arnold Ebiketie said after the game. “That’s what we’re supposed to do. We came out here and we executed our game plan.”

Ebiketie, a transfer from Temple, registered three tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, and a sack against Villanova. The defensive end burst onto the scene in week one against Wisconsin and has continued to impress since. This “expectation” he talked about is a common frame of mind shared by Penn State’s players.

Penn State’s “1-0” mentality might be hard to believe sometimes. When you play a ranked SEC opponent in primetime one week and an FCS team the next week, the vibe of the game is obviously different. But, for the Nittany Lions, every game is treated the same.

For any casual follower of the team, it was easy to see Villanova wasn’t a big game. No fan was circling a matchup with the Wildcats on their calendar before the season started. But in Penn State’s locker room, it’s a different story.

“This was a big game for us,” Franklin said. “If we’re not 1-0 today, it would’ve been a real big game.”

This slightly contradicts what the coach mentioned about the team’s complacency at practice, but it was easy to see that the defense, in particular, still brought the juice and intensity it did against Wisconsin, Ball State, and Auburn.

From the get-go, it was hard to imagine Villanova scoring a touchdown against Penn State’s defense. The Nittany Lions’ starters were well prepared, intense, and quick from whistle to whistle.

Safety Ji’Ayir Brown was one of the guys who put on a show Saturday afternoon. While the stat sheet said he only had one interception, he really had a second that was called back due to a penalty. He added three tackles and a tackle for a loss as well.

After the game, Brown was another guy to give credit to Penn State’s culture and “standard” for keeping things intense.

“You just said it, “1-0″ mentality. Coach Franklin holds us to a certain standard no matter who we play,” Brown said. “We come out here, we play everybody and treat everybody the same. We don’t underestimate nobody.”

Villanova did everything it could offensively to prepare for Penn State. They focused on lots of screens and quick-hitters early on and mixed in a strong rushing attack to keep the Nittany Lions off-balanced. They even brought leaf blowers to practice to simulate the crowd noise.

But even with the wrinkles the Wildcats mixed in, Penn State proved defensively that it was simply the better team. Villanova went three-and-out on four of its six drives in the first half, managing only a field goal.

When you’re a clear favorite against a team, all you can ask for is a solid performance like this. As a transfer from Duke, defensive tackle Derrick Tangelo knows better than anyone that you can’t take winning for granted.

“Winning is very hard,” Tangelo said. “Anytime you can come out here on the grass and win, it’s definitely a step [forward]…we like to say all the time that there’s a lot of programs that are sad out there.”

Tangelo also said that Penn State’s defense tries to take a step forward every week in some regard. Even when the stakes of the game might not seem high to an outside eye, the Nittany Lions are taking every opportunity to improve that they can.

This week, Tangelo said they did take that step forward. Linebacker Brandon Smith agreed but said it was more of a “baby step” than anything.

Seven different defensive players recorded three tackles against Villanova and Ellis Brooks led the way with four. Penn State kept pressure on veteran quarterback Daniel Smith all day and the secondary was nearly watertight.

With a prime-time matchup against Indiana around the corner, this is a performance the defense can be happy with. But, the Nittany Lions don’t want more complacency issues to seep into their play with marquee showdowns with Iowa and Ohio State on the horizon.

“We performed well today, but I think we need to take it up a notch,” Brown said.

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About the Author

Ryan Parsons

Ryan is a redshirt senior majoring in business and journalism from "Philadelphia" and mostly writes about football nowadays. You can follow him on Twitter @rjparsons9 or say hi via email at

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