STATE COLLEGE, Pa. –– Over the last two weeks, the Penn State defense has allowed the two quarterbacks it has faced to throw for 710 yards and four touchdowns and complete more than 80% of their passes.
And it’s not as if the Nittany Lions are just sitting back and allowing quarterbacks to throw underneath for short gains. In the loss to Minnesota two Saturdays ago, the Golden Gophers had 10 passes of 15 yards or more. While Penn State didn’t allow nearly that many against Indiana on Saturday, Hoosiers quarterback Peyton Ramsey still completed five passes of more than 15 yards and finished the game with a career-best 371 passing yards.
Miscommunication in the secondary was an issue in Minneapolis, and it was an issue in Beaver Stadium this weekend.
The Nittany Lions are using a handful of young cornerbacks in the secondary, and they’ve gotten burned a couple times. Veteran safety Garrett Taylor sees a clear area of improvement.
“Sometimes when offenses get on the ball quick … we’re not getting lined up, not getting set fast enough, so we’re a little bit out of position," Taylor said postgame. "It goes with execution a little bit, but we could do a little bit better job with our personality pre-snap. Sometimes we’ll give away tells and the quarterback will check out and get into a play that’s better for that call.”
Missed tackles have been an issue, as well.
“We’ve got to get better in tackling,” coach James Franklin said. “I think we’ve got some guys that are throwing shoulders, and against a lot of competition, that’ll work. But as you continue to play really good players, that’s not going to get the job done.”
Before Saturday’s game, Penn State had been one of the better tackling teams in the country, ranking sixth in the nation in fewest tackles missed.
“We pride ourselves in being a good tackling team, especially on the perimeter,” Taylor said. “When we have those opportunities to come up and make an open-field tackle, that’s something that we need to capitalize on.”
In uncharacteristic fashion, the Penn State defense has allowed 14 points in each of its last two opening quarters. In the team’s first eight games, the unit had allowed a whopping three total first-quarter points.
“We just need to wake up. We’ve been coming out slow,” Taylor said. “For whatever reason, we’ve got to pick the energy up. I think that’s something we do a really good job of as a defense: playing with passion. We don’t need to keep coming out and getting punched in the mouth for guys to wake up.”
On the road Saturday against No. 2 Ohio State, there will be no room for a slow start. This many weeks into the season, inexperience, missed tackles and allowing big plays won’t cut it.
“Some of the younger guys understand now what this game will mean to us,” linebacker Jan Johnson said. “We recruit all these guys to play in big games. They’ll know what’s at stake.”