CHICAGO – One trademark for Penn State over the last six seasons has been stability at quarterback, where Christian Hackenberg (2013-2015) and Trace McSorley (2016-2018) have been the only guys taking snaps at the start of the game.
Now the Nittany Lions need to find a new starter in preseason camp beginning next month, with redshirt sophomore Sean Clifford having a slight advantage over redshirt freshman Will Levis only because Clifford threw seven passes last season and Levis has yet to get on the field.
So the lack of experience at quarterback may make Lions fans wonder how much the defense will need to step up early in the season while the offense finds its stride. But two seniors on that unit, linebacker Cam Brown and cornerback John Reid, say they shouldn’t.
“Honestly, I don’t think so,” Brown said Friday at the Big Ten’s football media days. “I feel like our offensive coaches have a great plan ahead. They know what they’re doing and through camp they’re going to figure it out, figure out what the situation would be.
“I feel like we let down the offense a little bit last year in some ways because we didn’t close out games when we had the chance to, so I feel like the defense feels the weight on our shoulders. We want to improve, so that weight is on our shoulders and we want to be the best.”
Reid, who starred at St. Joseph’s Prep, said that any pressure the defense feels “is coming from us, and it’s not really pressure, it’s just a belief that we can be really good.”
“I know we could be up by 30 points and the defense is saying, ‘We need to make sure that we hold this game down,’ ” he said. “The mentality that we have, and I think it’s what makes us so good, is that we’re all really competitive. I think the most pressure we’re going to put on ourselves is going to be within our program. We don’t really use a lot of outside things as far as motivation. It’s not what we do.”
The defense appears to be a strength of the Nittany Lions this season. They are stacked at defensive end, where 6-foot-5, 264-pound junior Yetur Gross-Matos was named one of 10 all-conference honorees this week by the Big Ten. They also are deep at linebacker and at cornerback.
Brown said the defense’s two primary tasks this season are to finish games and force more turnovers. The Lions lost three of their four games last year by one possession -- to Ohio State, Michigan State, and Kentucky.
On the season, they were minus-1 on turnovers with one incredible statistic – Penn State created 24 fumbles but recovered only seven.
Brown said the major emphasis during spring football was on “mandatory scoop and score … full speed at all times.”
“This is something that you have to work on,” he said. “We’ve just got to take it seriously. Guys have to be able to really rep that all the time and we’ve got to punch and strip more. It’s like flipping a coin, sometimes it doesn’t fall on your side. But we took the steps in the spring to emphasize scooping and scoring, make sure we emphasize those turnovers, getting back to our turnovers goals.