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Penn State Football’s Defense Critical To Outcome Of Ohio State Contest

At the halfway point of the season, the Penn State football defense has collected its fair share of accolades.

Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s squad currently sits at No. 2 in scoring defense behind Michigan. It’s No. 1 in total defense while allowing an average of just eight points per game, per CFBStats.

The offensive stats don’t tell as dominant a story. According to CFBStats, the group comes in at No. 42 in the nation in total offense. However, Penn State is averaging 44.3 points per game, good enough for fifth-best in the country.

Against Ohio State, points are sure to be at a premium. Despite criticisms of the lack of explosive plays and deep pass attempts, James Franklin doesn’t believe in switching game plans for his offense ahead of this week’s game.

“I think what you have to be careful of, is you have to understand and figure out what the identity of your team is and embrace that identity no matter what the outside world is saying,” Franklin said. “You have to be comfortable in your own skin and own who you are and how you have to play.”

If Penn State is going to win Saturday’s matchup, it’ll have to lean into its identity and win the way it has many times this year — on the defensive side of the ball. It’s no secret Penn State has relied on its defense to bail it out of bad situations before, and being able to rely on a stout defense like Diaz’s will be extremely important come Saturday.

Despite the mismatch between the offense and defense, Franklin is confident in his team’s ability.

“Studying the analytics is important so you’re aware of what those things say, but a lot of times those analytics and trends are there for a reason,” Franklin said. “It means you’re good at something.”

That something is defense, and Diaz and Co. will face their toughest test yet in defending against the Buckeyes. Ohio State’s offensive line isn’t great. The Buckeyes have struggled to run the ball this year and haven’t created a reliable pocket for quarterback Kyle McCord to throw from, giving up 10 sacks through six games.

Despite top running back TreVeyon Henderson potentially re-entering the lineup on Saturday, all signs point to Penn State’s defensive line breaking through against the Ohio State protection. Penn State’s defensive line has stifled run games all season and recorded 27 sacks in pass-rushing situations.

Ohio State’s pass attack, however, is a different animal. The Buckeyes boast a receiving corps with the likes of Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka, and Julian Fleming while also having one of the college football’s better tight ends in Cade Stover.

While Franklin says he has a “coach’s crush,” on the way Stover plays, it’s Harrison that can cause real problems.

“He’s just consistently made plays. Obviously, he makes spectacular plays, but he makes the routine plays as well,” Franklin said. “He’s obviously somebody that we’ve got to be aware of at all times.”

Penn State’s secondary will have its hands full Saturday, but Franklin has acknowledged the corners have the ability to be trusted and open up the defensive playbook. Daequan Hardy leads the secondary with two interceptions, while cornerbacks Keaton Ellis, Johnny Dixon, and Cam Miller have each recorded one of their own. And with Kalen King leading the way, and not seeing many targets, the Nittany Lions’ 121.2 yards allowed through the air per game is the best in the country, per CFBStats.

Overall, Franklin believes that all facets of his team are working together to play great complimentary football and is in a great spot heading to Columbus. While Franklin maintained that he was only focused on this week, he subtly alluded to the magnitude of the occasion.

“Tremendous challenge. Also tremendous opportunity,” Franklin said. “We’re looking forward to going to Columbus to play this game.”

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About the Author

CJ Doebler

CJ is a junior double majoring in broadcast journalism and finance. He is from Northumberland, Pa, just east of State College. CJ is an avid Pittsburgh sports fan, but chooses to ignore the Pirates' existence. For the occasional random retweet and/or bad take, follow @CDoebler on Twitter. All complaints can be sent to [email protected].

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