After leading the Big Ten in sacks a year ago, Penn State’s defensive line might be even better suited for success in 2019.
The defensive line sets the tone for the rest of the defense behind them, and the ability of this unit to get to the quarterback so efficiently allows the rest of the defense to prosper.
“Those guys, I have full trust in them,” senior linebacker Cam Brown said. “I’m sure that I will be living life lavishly behind them and John Reid and all the DBs will too, they’ll make the games a lot easier for us.”
Throughout the defense there is a confidence in the guys up front, and with that confidence comes more freedom and playmaking opportunities.
Reid took advantage of those opportunities last week when he intercepted a rushed pass that was the result of the pressure put on Idaho’s quarterback.
“Your thought process changes but your technique doesn’t,” Reid said. “When they’re pressuring them so much you’re expecting the ball to come out a lot quicker so usually you’re playing an inside leverage and things like that for those quick slants... you have a clock in your head telling you the ball needs to be out by now or he’s getting sacked.”
The Nittany Lions recorded the second most sacks among all Big Ten teams in the first week of competition, but the defensive line has been talked about as one of the premier units in the nation — something that the Penn State defense largely believes.
“Those guys make my job so much easier, I feel like we have the best defensive line in the country and those guys are amazing,” junior safety Lamont Wade said, “They make my life easier and they make me a better player, I love those guys man, those guys are some dogs, literally.”
And it's not just the talent in the starting four on the line. The Nittany Lions’ depth in that area is arguably the best it's ever been.
“I think at defensive end we are truly three-deep on each side, so six guys that we feel like we can play,” James Franklin said. “I think at defensive tackle, we’re hitting that argument between five or six guys and the reality is we have to keep playing those guys to gain experience and to gain our trust.”
Yetur-Gross Matos led the way against Idaho with 2.5 sacks while Shaka Toney, Jayson Oweh, and Daniel Joseph also brought down the quarterback in the win.
Oweh isn’t starting this season as a redshirt freshman, but has taken the steps from last season to be ready to be a prominent part of the rotation.
“Raw in terms of understanding what you have to do each play — pre-snap reads, little stuff that can help you play faster. My first year when I was playing I didn’t have a lot of that,” Oweh said. “When [other teams] were run blocking I would try to pass rush and little stuff like that — football IQ.”
Having the ability to add Oweh into the group along with freshman Adissa Isaac allows the defensive line to consistently rotate without a huge drop-off in talent, and in turn keep pressure on the opposition.