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The Walker Report: Penn State’s Defense Looks Elite

Photo courtesy of Penn State Athletics: Manny Diaz

With all the hype surrounding offensive skill position freshmen Nicholas Singleton, Kaytron Allen and Drew Allar, everyone is underrating one aspect of Penn State’s team and another key for it  to win the Big Ten and challenge for the College Football Playoff: Penn State’s defense.

Manny Diaz is fielding a unit that could be the best in the Big Ten. He’s come in and infused energy. Penn State has allowed only 22 points in the last nine quarters.

People will point out that Diaz’s defense gave up 365 yards passing to Purdue’s Aidan O’Connell but O’Connell had to throw 59 passes and barely completed half of those passes and only averaged  6.2 yards per completion.

Against Purdue, Penn State forced four consecutive punts and made a stop to close the game. Diaz has proven to be the best addition to Penn State’s coaching staff in quite a few years because he turned a good defense into a borderline elite defense.

Penn State feasted on an overmatched Ohio team and did the same against Auburn, who was supposed to be a biggest test because of Tank Bigsby, a running back that was the SEC Freshman of the Year in 2020 and rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season.

Penn State held him to 39 yards on nine carries.

It also recorded seven sacks and four turnovers while holding Auburn to 119 rushing yards.

It also proved it could buckle down in the red zone,  holding Auburn to two field goals in the first half.

Penn State made a statement on defense after it turned the ball over on downs and Auburn subsequently drove the ball down to the 5-yard line. On third-and-goal, Curtis Jacobs busted through Auburn’s offensive line and sacked TJ Finley for a 9-yard loss, forcing an Auburn field goal.

In the third quarter, Auburn once again had a relatively short field and drove down to the 8-yard line.

The next three plays were a four-yard loss, an Abdul Carter sack on Robby Ashford, and a Ji’Ayir Brown interception.

Penn State has made plays on defense in the most critical times.

Let’s not forget the fumble that Zakee Wheatley forced at the end of the first half against Purdue when Purdue was driving down the field toward end of the first half.

Along with timely playmaking, the team also has depth at all three levels. The returns of PJ Mustipher, Hakeem Beamon and Adisa Isaac have improved the defense, as has the addition of Maryland transfer Chop Robinson and true freshman Dani Dennis-Sutton. Penn State can apply pressure with its front four and can match up with any offensive line in the country.

The linebacker position was thought to be the biggest question mark heading into the season, but after Saturday, that question has been answered. Jacobs has made plays, Jonathan Sutherland has made a smooth transition to linebacker and Carter looks to be the real deal.

The freshman from Philadelphia was all over the field Saturday and looks and plays every bit like LaVar Arrington and Micah Parsons, who wore the famous No. 11 before him.

In the secondary, Joey Porter Jr. looks like a Jim Thorpe Award front-runner with his performance early in the season, and Brown is performing at that level as well.

 

But Wheatley has been making plays all year long, like the interception he recorded last Saturday.

Johnny Dixon, Kalen King and Marquis Wilson provide the depth and coverage ability to keep up with the thoroughbreds that the Ohio State Buckeyes have at wide receiver. One of the most fun matchups to watch this season will be when Porter goes up against with Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba Oct 29 in Happy Valley.

Twitter: @bwalkerdadon

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