For Mike Hull, Christmas came early this year.
After Deion Barnes pried the football out of Navy running back Noah Copeland’s grasp, Hull’s eyes widened as he scooped up the ball, which was there for the taking. Seventy-four yards and a few seconds later, the linebacker scored the team’s first defensive touchdown of the season.
Penn State’s defense collectively succeeded in containing the Navy triple option Saturday, limiting its opponent to 4.2 yards per carry. The Midshipmen did outgain the Nittany Lions in the contest — tallying 391 yards in all — but the defense’s ability to get off the field by creating four turnovers offered the offense excellent field position throughout the game.
Coach Bill O’Brien said the most important facet of defensive coordinator Ted Roof’s blueprint to stopping the triple option was presenting Navy with many different defensive looks.
“You can’t stay in one front, one coverage all game and expect yourselves to stop them,” O’Brien said. “We just felt like that was a really good gameplan. I thought Ted called a heck of a game and more importantly, I thought the kids played great.”
The Lions held Navy quarterback Trey Miller to just 21 yards rushing and 22 yards passing.
The defensive pressure, which resulted in four sacks and nine tackles for loss in all, helped stall Navy’s offensive scheme. Barnes forced a fumble for the second straight game and linebacker Gerald Hodges intercepted Miller’s pass after he was heavily pressured by the Lions’ defensive line.
Senior safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong said the defense was forced to make quick decisions more often than usual.
“We just had to play fast,” he said. “You know, Navy’s offense, they’re disciplined and they really get after it.”
“For us to be able to get after it real quick, that was our key.”
After giving up nearly 500 yards in the season opener against Ohio, the defense has turned the table in its last two games, in which it has forced a total of eight turnovers.
Roof said his players are starting to feel comfortable within the team’s new defensive strategy.
“When you install a new system, you go through some growing pains,” Roof said. “We’ve been through some and we’re probably not done going through them yet. But I just want our guys to keep a great attitude, work everyday to get better, and focus on the next opponent and get ready to go play, and play physical.”
Roof acknowledged his players haven’t fully figured the defense out yet, which was especially evident against Ohio.
However, he praised his players’ perseverance after starting the year off with a subpar performance.
“When you gain experience, you’re going to make some mistakes, and we have,” Roof said. “But, you know what, we haven’t wallowed in self-pity and we’ve fought through it and that’s what I’m focused on, how to respond to something like that.”
Senior cornerback Stephon Morris said the attitude of the defense has improved as a whole, boding well for upcoming games like Saturday’s contest against Temple.
“[It’s a] confidence booster heading into Temple,” Morris said. “And after Temple, we start with the Big Ten. It’s just a confidence booster for everyone. We know we can play this game.”