Penn State’s Defense A Bright Spot In Ohio State Loss
There wasn’t much that went well for Penn State football on Saturday.
Controversial play calls and an offense that couldn’t move ultimately led to James Franklin dropping another game to the Buckeyes. Despite the negatives, Penn State’s defense showed its ability to compete with one of the top offenses in the country.
Penn State’s offense continued its slow-start streak and began the game with a three-and-out drive that resulted in six yards and two Drew Allar incompletions. Riley Thompson punted the ball to the Buckeyes and handed the keys to a defense that was once again being called upon to make big plays.
Manny Diaz’s crew held the Buckeyes to an opening-drive field goal and waited for the momentum to create an offensive spark that never materialized, so the defense took matters into its own hands.
The Buckeyes were marching down the field until Curtis Jacobs found himself in the Ohio State backfield before forcing and recovering a fumble for a touchdown. For a brief second, it looked like the Nittany Lions had all the momentum until the official turned on his microphone and called Penn State for a defensive hold. Members of the defense, however, didn’t point fingers.
“It’s just how the game works,” Jacobs said. “You’ve got to play the next play.”
Besides the holding call, the defense was called for unsportsmanlike conduct and a facemask during Saturday’s matchup.
Despite the penalties, Diaz and Co. held the Buckeyes, who’ve been averaging 45 points at Ohio Stadium this season, to just 20 points in front of their home crowd.
Even though Ohio State was without wide receiver Emeka Egbuka and running back TreVeyon Henderson, it still holds claim to high-powered offensive talents like wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. and tight end Cade Stover. Cornerback Kalen King lined up across Harrison for most of Saturday, but the linebackers also found trouble trying to cover the speedy wide receiver. Harrison ended the day with 11 catches for 162 yards and a touchdown.
Cornerback Daequan Hardy was the star of the secondary on Saturday, recording six total tackles and a team-high three pass breakups.
“I feel that I played well,” Hardy said. “I could’ve done better in tackling in some situations, but I played decent.”
The defensive line was expected to dominate the Ohio State offensive line on Saturday, and the Nittany Lions were in the backfield often, notching nine tackles for loss. Ohio State managed 107 yards on the ground without its top option in Henderson but relied heavily on the passing game to make up for it.
Even with a heavy presence in the Ohio State backfield, the Nittany Lions only managed two sacks without the help of defensive end Chop Robinson who exited the game in the second quarter after a hit to the head.
Adisa Isaac stepped up in Robinson’s absence, recording two tackles for loss and four total tackles. Isaac has become a leader in the Penn State locker room throughout the course of the season and says that Saturday’s loss can’t be put on any one play or any one person because football is a team game.
It’s that same team mentality that helped Penn State’s defense not get frustrated with an offense that struggled to produce throughout Saturday’s contest and instead always looked toward the next opportunity.
“In times like this, everyone wants to divide and point fingers,” Isaac said. “We don’t do that. We try to keep everything positive.”
For the defense, there were a fair amount of positives to dwell on. Besides the almost momentum-changing scoop-and-score, Zakee Wheatley and Jaylen Reed made a big stop during a goalline stand to keep Ohio State just four points away going into the last few possessions in the game. When the offense stalled out on the next drive, Jacobs said it was important to lift the offense up while continuing to produce on the defensive side of the ball.
“Obviously you wanna preach that that’s just the concept of a team,” Jacobs said. “You just wanna stick together and have their back. I still have their back now.”
The defense doesn’t harbor any bad feelings about the offense, with multiple defensive players feeling they simply weren’t good enough, and there’s no one person to lay the blame on.
Losing one of the biggest games of the year is a tough pill for Jacobs to swallow, but he said he’s ultimately looking forward to the chance to improve.
“Just attacking tomorrow, that’s really where it starts,” Jacobs said. “Get in tomorrow and watch the film, be honest with ourselves, and get ready for Indiana.”
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Kotelnicki’s hiring was first reported Thursday afternoon.
The Nittany Lions survived a late Minnesota comeback attempt to split the series.