When Penn State defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Brent Pry gets to the locker room at halftime, he takes a mental breath.
The Nittany Lion defense has taken its lumps in the first half of games; 28 points against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship immediately comes to mind.
But its what Penn State has done in the second half that’s caught people’s attention.
The offense has generated the hype, but Penn State’s defense — whether it was shutting down the Badgers or limiting Ohio State — has had a penchant for adjusting on the fly and succeeding in the final two quarters.
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“You kind of have to boil it down and see what really happened,” Pry said Wednesday at the LA Galaxy’s StubHub Center complex. “Why did they have this play? Why did they have success in this formation or this blocking scheme? And then if what we’re doing, when we’re doing it correctly, doesn’t work, now you make an adjustment.”
Pry said the biggest thing to recognize as a coach is “actually deciphering the issue.” So many are quick to switch schemes up, but it’s absolutely necessary to get to the root of the problem.
“You don’t want to fix something that’s not broken,” Pry added.
And as the season went on, Pry became more and more impressed with his young defense’s ability to adapt to his instructions.
Even when leaders like Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell were out with injury, Pry’s unit did well to keep up — and stymie — opposing offenses.
“I think it’s a sign of maturity that throughout the season those guys were able to make adjustments,” Pry said. “As the year went on, you could see the experience building.”
Lamont Wade excitement
When highly-touted recruit Lamont Wade picked the Nittany Lions on Dec. 18, it was met with celebration across Penn State Twitter.
Pry was pretty pumped, too.
“We’re super excited,” the defensive coordinator said of Wade, arguably the top 2017 prospect in Pennsylvania. “We can’t wait to get him in.”
Wade, a cornerback out of Clairton, is a five-star recruit according to Rivals.com and chose Penn State over Pittsburgh, Ohio State, UCLA, West Virginia and Tennessee.
Wade is slated to enroll early and will arrive on-campus in January, allowing him to experience winter workouts and spring practice.
Pry is pleased that a guy like Wade, who is expected to push for playing time in his first season, will get in the system prior to fall camp.
“I think if you have a guy you want to play as a freshman, if you have a need, having him in the spring puts him lightyears ahead of the other guys,” Pry said.
Worth keeping an eye on
Pry mentioned three specific players he believes have made significant improvements this year: defensive end Shareef Miller and defensive tackles Kevin Givens and Robert Windsor.
“As the year went on, they got more comfortable at their positions, and we got more comfortable with them,” Pry said. “They allowed us to take the handcuffs off a little bit.”
Miller, a redshirt freshman pass rusher from Philadelphia, has totaled 22 tackles, 4.5 stops for a loss and two sacks, while Windsor has the same amount of tackles, 1.5 for loss and one sack.
Givens has made the biggest impact. Not only has the Altoona native made six starts, but he’s also recorded 24 tackles, seven stops for a loss and 4.5 sacks (second-most on the team).
Pry, also an Altoona native, had some love for his hometown player.
“He would clean a block, stop his feet and size up the situation,” Pry said. “Now he cleans that block and is accelerating through the play. He’s faster and more comfortable.”
All three of them figure to have opportunities in the Rose Bowl when the No. 5 Nittany Lions face No. 9 Southern California at 5 p.m. on Monday.