Penn State Football

Why Brent Pry is pleased with Penn State’s defense despite Ohio State letdown

Penn State defensive including Kevin Givens, Shareef Miller and Cam Brown pull down Ohio State’s ball carrier during the game on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018 at Beaver Stadium.
Penn State defensive including Kevin Givens, Shareef Miller and Cam Brown pull down Ohio State’s ball carrier during the game on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018 at Beaver Stadium.

Brent Pry wouldn’t call Penn State’s fourth-quarter letdown against Ohio State “a collapse.” Instead, the defensive coordinator, whose unit allowed a game-winning, eight-play, 96-yard drive two weekends ago, chooses to look at the positives.

Penn State’s defense — which consists of seven new full-time starters — has experienced growing pains. But Pry is confident that his unit is making strides, even if his players didn’t feel that way walking out of Beaver Stadium with a stinging one-point loss.

“Obviously there’s been some areas where we need to continue to get better each week. And we’ve done that,” Pry said on a Thursday conference call. “We’re pleased with the progress. We weren’t necessarily discouraged, just a little disappointed (after Ohio State). But not discouraged. We know what ingredients are there.”

For proof of that, look no further than the Ohio State game. The Nittany Lions swarmed Heisman Trophy candidate Dwayne Haskins and the Buckeyes’ high-octane attack for the better part of 52 minutes. Penn State forced five three-and-outs in the first half and allowed 201 yards on 58 plays in the first three quarters for a paltry 3.47 yards per play. For reference, Texas-San Antonio is the worst team in the college football when it comes to yards per play, and the Roadrunners average 3.6 yards a pop.

What Shareef Miller, Kevin Givens, Cam Brown and company accomplished was remarkable, by far the best defensive showing Penn State has had this season. But it wasn’t enough because they didn’t finish.

Excluding three victory formation kneel downs, Ohio State averaged 12.38 yards per play in the fourth quarter (198 yards, 16 plays). Of course, 47 yards came at once — a catch-and-run for Binjimen Victor in which he weaved by, through, or around four would-be tacklers. A series later, on K.J. Hill’s 24-yard go-ahead screen pass score, John Reid brutally missed a tackle near the line of scrimmage.

“Certainly, the two drives were disappointing,” Pry said. “And if you really isolate it, you can talk about a few plays right there. I don’t know that I would call it a collapse. A couple of very unfortunate poorly played plays by some guys that played very well for 99 percent of the game.”

Pry could have said something similar after the Appalachian State, Pitt and Illinois games, too. The Mountaineers scored 28 points in the fourth quarter of an upset scare. The Panthers put up 214 rushing yards in the first half. And the Illini averaged 7.9 yards per carry in the first half with seven runs of 10 yards or more.

Pry doesn’t believe there is a “common thread” when it comes to Penn State’s defensive lapses. And Brown agreed, saying, “It’s something a little bit different” every time — tackling, communication, guys getting comfortable in new roles.

Whatever it may be, the Nittany Lions feel as though they have an accurate understanding of what needs to be corrected through five games. And they’re embracing the progress made.

“They’re growing each week,” Pry said. “We don’t have quite the experienced bunch we had. Each week I think we’ve gotten closer. And against Ohio State, I think we played as much in the framework and as close to where we hope to be that we’ve done all season.”

Added head coach James Franklin: “I think we took a real stride last week. I think our defense played really well last week against one of the best offenses in the country. But we’ve still got work to do.”