STATE COLLEGE - The numbers are not there for Deion Barnes, not through three games.
Penn State's star defensive end and Northeast High graduate has been limited to five tackles - none for a loss - and has not recorded a sack during the first quarter of the team's season. Barnes led the team in sacks last season, with six, and was named the Big Ten's top freshman, so opponents are aware of where he is lining up this season.
And coach Bill O'Brien said the box score does not always tell the whole story.
"I think he's playing with great effort," O'Brien said. "He's an excellent player. I believe people are running away from him. I think that people are giving the [offensive] tackles help in protection with him. I would, too. We've got to do things to move him around and help him out a little bit. We will, and we have."
However teams are preparing to play against Barnes, the lack of production is an oddity for the 6-4, 245-pound redshirt sophomore. Barnes totaled 10 tackles for a loss last season, and did not go more than two games in a row without bringing a player down behind the line of scrimmage.
Barnes has hurried the quarterback a few times this season, and had a sack slip through his hands against Eastern Michigan on Sept. 7. Senior linebacker Glenn Carson stressed the same patience O'Brien had about Barnes, and noted the lineman is ready to make the kind of plays he was accustomed to last season.
"I don't see any frustration out of him," Carson said. "I'm sure he's really anxious to start making those big plays. Sometimes, it doesn't happen right away. It's not necessarily a reflection of how he's playing. He's just not had those opportunities yet. I'm sure he's hungry."
Barnes was part of a Penn State defense that was cut apart for 507 yards in a 34-31 loss to Central Florida on Saturday. O'Brien noted after the game he would spend a lot of time in the film room to see what went wrong, and said he had a better idea of the problems at his weekly news conference yesterday. The second-year coach noted his team's tackling has to improve, which was evident against UCF.
Penn State had its practice technique of "thud" tackling called into question after its first defeat of the season. "Thud" is a practice that has defenders wrap up ballcarriers, but doesn't have them taken to the ground. O'Brien said it is commonplace on football practice fields across the country, and the issue has to do with being out of position in games, not the way his team runs drills.
"There's hundreds of teams out there that practice the same way we practice," O'Brien said. "It's not unique at all. I've been places where we never hit. I've been places where we hit every day and we couldn't tackle anybody."
The Lions will attempt to bounce back Saturday in its final nonconference tuneup against Kent State. Carson said the defense didn't play "Penn State football" in the loss to UCF. But the linebacker was trying to take some positives from the defeat, noting it may be a "blessing in disguise."
"That loss was humbling to us," Carson said. " . . . I think taking that feeling after the game and trying to never feel that again for the rest of the season is the biggest thing that we'll take."