Penn State Football

Penn State football: Nittany Lion defense shows versatility in Dublin

Penn State's Brandon Bell, left, brings down Central Florida running back Dontraveious Wilson during Saturday's Croke Park Classic in Dublin. The Nittany Lion defense kept the Golden Knight offense off balance for most of the game, giving up 246 yards of offense.
Penn State's Brandon Bell, left, brings down Central Florida running back Dontraveious Wilson during Saturday's Croke Park Classic in Dublin. The Nittany Lion defense kept the Golden Knight offense off balance for most of the game, giving up 246 yards of offense. For the CDT

Bob Shoop’s defense lived up to his promise that it would be a multi-faceted, evolving group.

In Saturday’s 26-24 win over Central Florida, Penn State used a host of combinations and handfuls of players on defense to largely keep UCF off balance and out of the end zone.

Specifically, Shoop used eight different defensive linemen and mixed and matched combinations of seven defensive backs to get his desired results — relentless pursuit and never ending pressure. Penn State used a five-man defensive front where tackle Anthony Zettel moved over to free up room for Parker Cothren in the middle. The five-man front came in handy when Penn State stuffed three straight UCF runs from inside the Penn State four-yard line then got pressure from defensive end Deion Barnes to force an incomplete pass on fourth-and-goal.

Senior linebacker Mike Hull saw plenty of positives from the defensive line’s play. Penn State defensive linemen earned two sacks and a quarterback hurry and helped hold UCF to just 24 rushing yards. They also freed up room for Hull and the linebackers to operate with little space to work with. Hull finished the game with five goal line tackles.

“I think we’re a very versatile defense,” Hull said. “We can move (Anthony) Zettel around up front which helps a lot and also we have a lot of defensive backs that can play so we can bring people from everywhere (on blitzes) from every positions with every type of skillset.”

Linebackers Brandon Bell and Nyeem Wartman blitzed from their outside positions while safety Adrian Amos played up in the box as a third, coverage linebacker — or star by Shoop’s terminology — and also blitzed. Penn State used a safety group of Amos, Malik Golden and Ryan Keiser and four cornerbacks — Jordan Lucas, Trevor Williams, Da’Quan Davis and Grant Haley — often.

Save for a few hiccups — Davis was beat twice on UCF touchdown passes while UCF’s Josh Reese got behind Williams for a 37-yard gain that set up the Knights’ final touchdown — Penn State still held UCF to 246 total yards.

Keiser said he thinks the team’s number of contributors will only lead to improvement.

“We’ve got a lot of great guys,” Keiser said. “Coach Shoop does a good job of getting guys on the field that can make plays and we’re going to keep improving and we’ll play a lot of guys, obviously.”

Tough losses before the game

UCF played Penn State without two of its best offensive players.

Wide receiver Rannell Hall was not able to play after sitting out the preseason with an arm injury and running back William Stanback missed the game with a foot injury. Hall led UCF with 57 catches last season. Stanback backed up Storm Johnson and is expected to be the Knight’s primary ballcarrier this season.

UCF coach George O’Leary was blunt when asked if the absence of two of his offense’s skill position players had negative effects on the Knights’ capabilities.

“None,” O’Leary said. “They didn’t play. The other guys are on scholarship. They’ve got the opportunity, they’ve got to produce.”

Penn State players out

A handful of Penn State players were also sidelined.

Junior wide receiver Matt Zanellato did not suit up for the game and neither did junior college transfer Tarow Barney -- both were in light blue, non-contact jerseys during practice leading up to the Croke Park Classic. Sophomore defensive back Anthony Smith also sat out.

True freshmen Marcus Allen and Nick Scott did not dress for the game. Freshman receiver DeAndre Thompkins did but did not see any playing time.

Pregame ceremonies and a boisterous crowd

The Croke Park Classic kicked off with a parachutist soaring into the stadium to deliver the game ball.

Afterward, a local singing group serenaded the stadium with the Star Spangled Banner and The Soldiers’ Song — Ireland’s national anthem. Afterward, two F18 Navy fighters flew over Croke Park.

The game went down as the highest-attended college football game played in Ireland. The announced attendance was 53,304. Notre Dame and Navy drew 48,820 fans to the Emerald Isle Classic in 2012.

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