Penn State Football

Penn State football: Nittany Lions’ defense turns in another dominant performance

Penn State defensive end Carl Nassib (95) forces Indiana running back Tevin Coleman to fumble as Penn State's Brandon Bell closes in on the play on Saturday.
Penn State defensive end Carl Nassib (95) forces Indiana running back Tevin Coleman to fumble as Penn State's Brandon Bell closes in on the play on Saturday. For the CDT

Bob Shoop made a prediction and issued a challenge earlier this week.

As Penn State’s defense practiced, preparing to face an offense that leans on the nation’s most productive running back at Memorial Stadium, the Nittany Lion defensive coordinator boldly foresaw that his players would shut out Indiana. In order to do so, Shoop figured they’d have to hold Hoosier tailback Tevin Coleman — who came into the game averaging 163 yards per game — under the century mark.

If he had one, Shoop could’ve pulled out his to-do list at the end of Penn State’s 13-7 win at Memorial Stadium on Saturday and penciled in two big, bold checkmarks.

Indiana scored its only touchdown on defense and Coleman finished with 71 yards on 20 carries. It was another dominating effort from the Nittany Lions who have been revived under Shoop’s leadership. Indiana crossed midfield just four times — and just once in the second half.

“We really played as a unit the entire day,” linebacker Mike Hull said. “Everyone did their assignment and did their job. It might not have looked flashy or pretty all the time but they didn’t get the big run plays and they didn’t do too much on offense.”

That could be an understatement from Penn State’s always-humble defensive captain.

Indiana averaged 3.2 yards per play, didn’t get into the red zone and Hoosier ballcarriers were tackled 10 times behind the line of scrimmage. Meanwhile, 21 percent of Zander Diamont’s passes were swatted away by Penn State defenders and two more were picked off.

But most importantly, Coleman failed to make his usual impact.

The hard-running Indiana tailback who entered the game with 10-straight 100-plus-yard rushing games and seven touchdown runs of 20 or more yards, managed a 17-yard rush in the second half. But that was his biggest contribution on the afternoon.

“I don’t think we missed many tackles on him at all all day,” Hull said. “The quarterback got a little bit (more). He was a little bit more elusive than we thought, but we made it a focus this week to bring down (Coleman).”

And Hull did so with force. After Coleman ripped off his 17-yard run in the third quarter, Diamont hustled the offense to the line of scrimmage and handed it to Coleman again. Hull flew up the middle and popped him for a loss of one. Coleman went no where after that, running for a gain of five yards once more but nothing greater.

Meanwhile, Indiana’s hurry-up offense failed to neutralize the Penn State defense’s schemes. Although Shoop called fewer blitzes than he has in the past, the Nittany Lions continued to attack downhill and play with speed. Even a shifty, elusive Diamont couldn’t catch them off guard.

Penn State sacked Diamont just once but force quick throws when he wasn’t ready as Nittany Lion defensive linemen turned Indiana’s offensive linemen into big guys on roller skates. Defensive tackles Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel continuously moved the pocket backward while Parker Cothren, Tarow Barney and Tyrone Smith factored in on defensive line coach Sean Smith’s rotations.

Safety Adrian Amos had a pretty good vantage point of the action. He grinned when asked if he’s having fun playing in this defense.

“It’s pretty fun,” Amos said. “In the backend we don’t get a lot of work because that defensive line and Mike Hull are making all the tackles. So yeah, it’s great and it starts up front. We’ve been playing well.”

Hull tied with Nyeem Wartman for the team lead with seven tackles. But it was Wartman who made a critical play late.

Diamont dropped to throw from deep in his own territory and Wartman, in coverage on the play, kept his eyes on him the whole time. Diamont fired over the middle and Wartman snagged the pass out of the air. He returned it 13 yards to set Penn State up in field goal range. After the game, Wartman looked down at his right hand. He gave his fingers a few wiggles.

“First game with the cast off,” Wartman said. “I’m getting used to putting my hand on people again. It’s a different style of play now. With the cast, I had to re-adjust my game. Now I’m trying to get back and used to playing without a cast.”

It didn’t take long.