BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The Penn State defense received a renewed lesson on facing a hurry-up offense Saturday afternoon in Bloomington, losing 44-24 to a high-flying Indiana attack. Led by quarterback Nate Sudfeld, the Hoosiers’ fast-paced offense gradually picked apart the Nittany Lions’ defense until the game was no longer in reach.
Here are our position-by-position grades for the three sections of the Lions’ defense from Bloomington.
The Lions’ front four made its presence felt in Sudfeld’s personal bubble early Saturday, with defensive end Anthony Zettel grabbing his first career sack to keep the Hoosiers’ first drive to a three-and-out. The unit’s day as a whole, despite netting four sacks, varied, however. Keeping up with the Hoosiers’ no-huddle offense prevented the Lions from substituting as often as usual and the line’s inability to consistently disrupt the quick release of Sudfeld left the pass defense helpless at times. It wasn’t the line’s worst game so far this season — the Hoosiers averaged less than four yards per rush — but it certainly won’t be remembered as its best.
The much-anticipated return of Mike Hull resulted in a mixed bag for the linebacking corps. Although middle linebacker Glenn Carson and Hull tallied 10 tackles each, there were still several plays where the middle section of the Lions’ defense was exposed. Hull said he was playing at "90 or 95 percent" and believes he will gradually get healthier as the season goes on. While the junior missed a few tough tackles, his playmaking ability still shown through. Meanwhile, Stephen Obeng-Agyapong got the start over Nyeem Wartman, who O’Brien said has injury issues as well, but the converted safety wasn’t able to provide much in the area of pass defense assistance in Sudfeld’s 321-yard day.
At the position where there has been the most question marks in Penn State’s five-game season, questions remain abound. The Lions’ secondary once again saw the defense’s most inexperienced members, corners Jordan Lucas and Trevor Williams, be targeted with success. Lucas, especially, had trouble keeping up with speedy wide receiver Cody Latimer, who gained 140 yards in the air on the day. However, Lucas did make strides when it came to tackling, as he finished with nine tackles, including 1.5 for a loss. Safeties Adrian Amos and Malcolm Willis performed well on occasion to shore up the Lions’ pass coverage; but, in all, Penn State’s defensive backs struggled to keep up with the play-by-play adjustments within Kevin Wilson’s offensive scheme.
John Stuetz can be reached at email@example.com or 814-865-1828. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnStuetz_PSU.