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Penn State’s Defense Hangs Tough, But Nittany Lions Not Settling For Moral Victories

Following a frustrating, strange three-week stretch that included a road loss to Iowa and a shocking nine-overtime defeat to Illinois, the last thing Penn State needed was a trip to Ohio Stadium.

The Nittany Lions were forced to try and avoid a three-game slide against one of the Big Ten’s best, as the Buckeyes are currently ranked No. 5 in the AP Top 25 Poll. Ryan Day’s group also boasts a flashy, productive offense that entered Saturday night’s contest leading the conference in yards and points per game.

Quarterback CJ Stroud, freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson, and veteran wideout Chris Olave are just a few of the stars that had impacts in Penn State’s defeat at The Horseshoe. However, based on what the group has done to opposing defenses all season long, Brent Pry’s unit deserves credit for keeping the Nittany Lions in the game throughout the night.

“Defensively I thought we did some really good things…consistently stopping the run especially in the first half, challenging throws in coverage,” James Franklin said postgame. “We weren’t able to get pressure on the quarterback or sacks, but overall I thought we played really well.

“Obviously we gave up some explosive plays to start the second half,” Franklin added.

That second piece was truly the issue for the Nittany Lions. Penn State managed to limit the stud rusher Henderson until he hit on a 68-yard rush that set up an easy score. Stroud also connected with Olave on a 38-yard score on his sole passing touchdown of the night.

The Nittany Lions managed to bend but not break in the red zone on multiple occasions. They forced the Buckeyes into three field goals after they set up shop inside of the 20-yard line, including two stops inside of the 10, but it was the well-timed explosive plays that carried Day’s group against Penn State’s defense.

Joey Porter Jr., who finished his night with two total tackles but was also flagged for a couple of pass interferences, discussed Ohio State’s big-play ability postgame.

“We knew coming into this game that they’re a high offense, they like to take shots down the field, and they’re a good team so they were gonna make plays,” Porter said. “But we also have to make our plays. I feel like today, we didn’t get to make a lot of plays that we should’ve, but we stopped them on some other plays. We’ll see more on the film tomorrow.”

Curtis Jacobs added seven tackles on the night, two of which went for a loss. While he was one of several defenders who had an impressive night on the stat sheet, he noted that the Nittany Lions pride themselves on limiting explosive plays and forcing turnovers, but struggled to do both of those things Saturday.

After an ugly loss to the Fighting Illini in which they allowed 357 yards on the ground, plenty of folks weren’t expecting the Nittany Lions to do much to slow down Ohio State’s weapons. Henderson finished his night with 152 yards, but the defense managed to put Sean Clifford and the offense in a position to stay alive throughout the night.

Despite the success that can be pulled from that side of the ball, along with strong offensive performances from the likes of Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington, the Nittany Lions can’t shy away from the fact that things have changed dramatically over this past month. James Franklin’s group now sits at 5-3, and is fighting to stay alive in the Big Ten with two ranked matchups still left on the slate.

Penn State fought hard against a great Ohio State team, but a three-game losing streak isn’t pretty no matter how you slice it.

“Obviously I’m glad that we came and competed, and did some good things and gave ourselves a chance to win. But at the end of the day, we didn’t get it done,” Franklin said. “We’ll make a big deal of the positive things tomorrow when we watch this tape, and then we’ll obviously critique and correct the mistakes that we made to give us the best chance to win next week.”

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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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