Purdue’s strong safety, Landon Feichter, leads the Big Ten with four interceptions this season. Penn State’s secondary, in stark contrast, has had one pick as an entire unit.
As a former walk-on, Feichter leads a ball-hawking secondary that has tallied 10 interceptions and often helped the Boilermakers’ defense — which is giving up more than 400 total yards per game — keep opposing passing attacks in check.
Penn State coach Bill O’Brien and quarterback Matt McGloin praised Feichter’s innate ability to come down with the ball and said they must know his position on the field at all times. However, several offensive players said the key to the aerial battle will rely on the Nittany Lions sticking to their offensive scheme.
Doing so may be challenging, though, because the Boilermakers defense as a unit has had 11 picks, good for second in the Big Ten. They have also turned several of these turnovers into game-changing plays, converting a conference-leading three of these interceptions for touchdowns.
Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said he immediately noticed the impressive amount of land both Feichter and his fellow defensive backs are able to cover when reviewing the film.
“Feichter, one thing that stands out to me right away is his range,” O’Brien said. “He’s got really good range. He can run. He’s got good ball skills, and he’s instinctive. And I would say that about their whole secondary.”
In Purdue’s close contest against Ohio State, its secondary was one of the main reasons the Boilermakers kept it close against the undefeated Buckeyes. Both Feichter and cornerback Josh Johnson recorded interceptions, although Purdue ultimately fell in overtime.
However, Purdue coach Danny Hope said at his press conference Tuesday that his team’s pass defense has been largely hit-or-miss. The stats back this up, too, as the Boilermakers rank just eighth in the Big Ten in overall pass defense.
As for the matchup against the Lions, Hope said the success of the secondary will most likely hinge on its discipline.
“I think we match up very well, but we have to come out and play very disciplined in the secondary, very disciplined in the back half,” Hope said. “[That way,] we won’t be exploited as we were a couple of times in the last couple of games.”
Penn State faced Ohio State last week, which leads the Big Ten with 12 interceptions. The Lions had relative success in the air — throwing for 327 yards in all — despite McGloin’s crucial interception to begin the second half.
McGloin said the offense would not be surprised if Purdue’s secondary played an impact in Saturday’s game, especially the sneaky Feichter.
“We’re going to have to be very aware of where [Feichter] is at all times,” McGloin said, “and take our shots when necessary.”
However, the quarterback said he doesn’t expect the Lions’ offensive game plan to necessarily be altered due to the opposing secondary’s aggressive strategy.
Wide receiver Allen Robinson agreed, saying Penn State’s offense has already proven itself against potent secondaries in previous weeks.
“I think that we’ve been able to be successful [passing the ball] throughout the year so far, so I think we’re just going to try to keep that going,” Robinson said. “We know that they have a great secondary, and it’s going to be a great challenge.”