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Penn State’s Defense Continues Lights-Out Season With Shutout Win Over Indiana

Late in the first quarter against Indiana Saturday night, Penn State football’s defense found itself pinned against its own four-yard line on fourth and goal. With only a seven-point lead, the Nittany Lions needed a stop.

Defensive end Arnold Ebiketie delivered, and Brent Pry’s unit held strong. That ended up being the closest the Hoosiers got to scoring all night, as Penn State took care of business with a 24-0 victory. This goal-line stand epitomized the “bend don’t break” mentality James Franklin’s preached all year.

“I thought that was a huge play,” Franklin said. “If they score there or pick up a first down, it may be a different game. We’re playing really good defense right now, I’m really proud of them.”

A big key to Penn State’s defensive success against Indiana was the play of the defensive line. The unit brought pressure on nearly every play, forcing Indiana’s quarterbacks to make quick decisions — often leading to mistakes.

Joey Porter Jr. and Ji’Ayir Brown were among the defenders to capitalize on these mistakes as both secondary specialists had an interception in Saturday’s affair. Porter’s pick was the first of his career, while Brown has already hauled in three this season. Both have been impressive parts of the Nittany Lion’s stout defense so far this season.

Nickle cornerback Daequan Hardy also contributed with two pass breakups and a tackle against Indiana. Hardy said after the game it was clear the Hoosiers’ signal-callers were struggling to make things happen against the Nittany Lions.

“I didn’t particularly see [the quarterback] getting frustrated, but I did see him go through his reads and see nothing there,” Hardy said. “He would hold onto the ball too long and that’s when our d-line did its job.”

This harmony between Penn State’s defensive line and secondary unit is part of what’s made the crew so good this season.

The cornerbacks and safeties often buy the pass rushers time to get to the quarterback, while the guys in the box often force interceptions and incompletions for the secondary.

This is something Franklin often refers to as “complimentary” football, and it’s a term he used again after the game. While the head coach doesn’t think the defense is overwhelmingly effective in one specific area, the unit comes together as a whole to give offenses a tough time.

So if Penn State’s defense isn’t excellent in one certain dimension, what type of identity does it have? Porter said the Nittany Lions are “stingy,” both in and out of the red zone.

“Our mentality stays the same from right when the clock starts to right when it ends,” Porter said. “We’re just trying to be a stingy defense no matter what.”

While the cornerback said Penn State’s mentality stays the same all game, it’s hard to ignore its effectiveness in high-stakes situations. We saw the game on the line against Wisconsin and Auburn, and now we’ve seen excellent red zone performances against the likes of Ball State and Indiana.

Through the first three quarters, Indiana only ended a drive on Penn State’s side of the 50 on three occasions. The outcomes? A goal-line stand, an interception, and a blocked field goal.

Defensive tackle PJ Mustipher said after the game that Penn State’s confidence plays a big role in its red zone success.

“It’s just being confident. We understand where they’re at [in the red zone] — they’re in a good spot to get points on the board,” Mustipher said. “We’re confident in ourselves. No matter where they’re at on the field, we want to get stops.”

This confidence surely grew following the win over Indiana. No matter the caliber of the team, putting a zero on the board is a huge accomplishment.

The Hoosiers hadn’t been shut out in 246 straight games before Penn State did just that Saturday night. With a Stripe Out crowd behind them, the Nittany Lions’ all-around effort simply kept Indiana off the board.

While this effort was impressive, Mustipher isn’t exactly satisfied quite yet.

“Getting a shutout is huge for a defense, I think it’s one of the best things you can do,” Mustipher said. “I’m happy about the win, but I don’t think ‘satisfied’ is the word, because we’re never satisfied.”

With the upcoming Big Ten slate, it makes sense the unit doesn’t feel this way.

The 5-0 Nittany Lions are quite battled-tested already, but Penn State’s biggest task of the season is right around the corner. A trip to Iowa City for what will almost certainly be a top-five — if not top-four — matchup will surely draw eyes from all around the country.

“I think we all realize Iowa is a really good football team, they always are, but they’re playing on a different level right
now,” Franklin said. “So, we got to get some things cleaned up, and we’re going to have to take another step.”

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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 [email protected]

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