Penn State’s Defensive Line Aiming For ‘More Production’ Ahead Of Auburn

When former Miami head coach Manny Diaz was hired as Penn State’s new defensive coordinator in December 2021, his aggressive style was expected to mesh well with the team’s returning personnel.

Under Diaz’s tutelage, the Hurricanes’ defense was among the best at picking up sacks, and his turnover chain was a fixture of college football culture. Diaz took over the helm of a defense that was characterized by Ji’Ayir Brown’s NCAA-leading six interceptions, the third-best total allowed points per game in the conference, and seven NFL players in 2021.

At Penn State football’s Media Day in August, Diaz explained his philosophy was one of chaos. Putting opponents in precarious field position situations, disrupting quarterback timing, and forcing turnovers are hallmarks of the Diaz defense.

But, not all of those results have been displayed just yet.

Through two weeks, the Nittany Lions have just three sacks under their belt — zero coming from the defensive linemen.

“Obviously, we want more production,” head coach James Franklin said on Wednesday. “We want more tackles for loss. We want more sacks.”

At Media Day, another point of emphasis Diaz discussed was depth and strengthening defensive rotations. In week one against Purdue, the Nittany Lions gave snaps to 26 different defenders, including many freshmen. That trend continued against Ohio.

With multiple new starters and reserves at the linebacker position, the defensive line’s production is important insurance.

“It starts up front with our defensive line in setting the tone, especially when you still have some inexperience behind them,” Franklin said on Tuesday. “It helps and takes some pressure off.”

Not all pressure is documented in stat columns. Purdue’s sixth-year senior quarterback, Aidan O’Connell, got the ball out quickly to protect his team’s pass-heavy offensive approach but was thrown out of rhythm on multiple plays that didn’t result in sacks.

Still, against a weaker team like the Mid-American Conference’s Ohio, one would expect to have seen a more tangible statement from the defense. Penn State managed just one sack against the Bobcats and it came from a blitzing defensive back.

On Saturday, the newly ranked Nittany Lions will likely face their biggest challenge of 2022 thus far. Auburn poses different threats than either Purdue or Ohio. With Penn State’s offensive efficiency clicking on all cylinders, its defense will likely be the difference.

“I’m a big believer it starts up front, with the front four,” Franklin said. “This game, you look at [Auburn’s] running backs and you look at their style of play…and we’re going to have to play well up front.”

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About the Author

Sam Fremin

Sam is a senior from Ashburn, Virginia, majoring in journalism and political science & minoring in German and creative writing. He is a Dallas Cowboys fan who relishes the misery of Eagles fans. All hate messages can be sent to [email protected] or @SamFremin on Twitter.

He may or may not read every single comment he gets.

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