Penn State Football’s Defense Shaky In Indiana Win
Coming into Saturday’s game against Indiana, Penn State football’s defense was ranked second nationally in scoring defense while allowing an average of 9.7 points per game. Penn State’s consistently reliable defense allowed a season-high 24 points in the game against the Hoosiers.
While the slow starts from the Penn State offense have been a theme throughout the season, the defense was always available to bail the offense out and keep opposing teams out of the end zone. That wasn’t the case against Indiana as the Nittany Lions allowed two scoring plays of over 65 yards in the first half alone.
The first big scoring play came on the Hoosiers’ third drive of the game, which started at the Indiana 10-yard line. Indiana quarterback Brendan Sorsby found wide receiver DeQuece Carter along the sideline and the speedy receiver blew by the Penn State defense en route to a 90-yard score and the first points Penn State had allowed inside Beaver Stadium since early September against Delaware. Just two drives later, Sorsby connected with Donaven McCulley for a 69-yard touchdown that gave Indiana a 14-7 lead.
“We just had some blown coverages that we haven’t had,” James Franklin said postgame. “We made some mistakes this week that are uncharacteristic for us.”
The two big plays weren’t the only uncharacteristic aspects of the Nittany Lion defense this week as they allowed 269 yards and three touchdowns through the air along with 80 rushing yards for the third-highest amount of total offense the group has allowed all year.
For a team like Indiana, which cfbstats lists as the 112th-ranked rushing offense in the nation, to have 80 rushing yards against one of the best defensive lines in the nation was unexpected, even with defensive end Chop Robinson out.
Robinson has been a large part of the defensive line’s success thus far, amassing nine tackles, three sacks, and a forced fumble through six games. Fellow defensive end Dani Dennis-Sutton stepped up in Robinson’s absence and recorded six total tackles and one sack along with a momentum-changing forced fumble that resulted in a safety at a critical juncture of the game.
“In general, we have great depth in the defensive room,” safety Kevin Winston Jr. said. “I feel like [Dennis-Sutton is] one guy that, when Chop went down, he was ready to step up.”
Even though the defense got off to a slow start, it made plays when it had to. With the game tied up at 14 and the Nittany Lion offense struggling to take control, the defense had to make a stop when the Hoosiers got the ball back with just over a minute left in the first half. Sorsby completed a pass against a struggling secondary for a first down but threw an interception to safety Jaylen Reed on his next pass. The interception proved to be a game-changer, as Penn State converted its good field position into a field goal as time expired in the first half and took a three-point lead into the locker room.
Penn State’s defense was once again called upon to make a critical stop in the late stages of the fourth quarter after the Nittany Lions had just taken a seven-point lead and handed the ball back to the Hoosiers with under two minutes left in the game. Dennis-Sutton got to Sorsby and sent the ball tumbling backward down the field, triggering a mad dash for the football that ended with multiple players from both teams bobbling the ball until it headed out of the back of the end zone for a Penn State safety that all but ended the game.
“I had no idea it was a strip sack,” Dennis-Sutton said. “I turned around about to do a celebration and I saw the ball’s tumbling in the end zone.”
Penn State’s defense, at times, wasn’t pretty. After holding Ohio State, one of the nation’s best offenses, to 20 points a week prior, letting a two-win team put up 24 points inside Beaver Stadium was concerning. The Nittany Lion defense knew that it left some plays on the field Saturday, but when the team needed it most, the defense delivered.
“The offense did a great job of scoring and then they put it on the defense to shut it out,” Dennis-Sutton said. “That’s what we did.”
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