UNIVERSITY PARK -- Nick Sukay was asked a fair question about grading the defense so far, and to his credit, the Penn State safety didn't sugarcoat things and gave a candid, accurate response.
"I would give us just a C -- average," Sukay said. "We haven't done anything spectacular, and obviously our first-quarter letdowns are not too good."
Grades like C aren't typical for the Nittany Lions, who year in and year out rank among the nation's best defenses. But this season has been different, and Sukay nailed exactly why.
The early letdowns.
Iowa scored 10 points in the first quarter Saturday, which buried the Lions in a hole they couldn't overcome. It could have been 14 points, but the Hawkeyes shot themselves in the foot with a false start penalty on second-and-goal at the 3 on their opening drive, leading to a field goal instead of a touchdown.
The defense played well the rest of the game, allowing only seven more points, but the damage had been done.
"That hurt us throughout the game and everything and hurt the offense," said Sukay, who has three interceptions.
The offense certainly has its issues and has been abysmal in the red zone. But blaming all of PSU's problems on the offense would be overlooking the early lapses by the defense.
The Lions also allowed 13 points in the first quarter against Temple -- seven coming after a fumble by Evan Royster deep in their own territory -- and 17 points in the first half against Alabama.
"It goes both ways," Sukay said when asked about his team's red zone problems. "We gave up 17 points on defense. We weren't helping the offense out.
"If one team's down," he added, "the other one has to pick the other side up. And so far we haven't been able to do that."
The slow starts overall, offensively and defensively, have been disappointing to Joe Paterno.
"We have not gone out there and played with a lot of get up and go early in the game and let other people do some things that we thought we could handle," he said.
"So I'm disappointed, as I'm sure the kids are themselves about that."
"We have to come out and be ready to play that first quarter," Sukay said.
SUBHD: Red zone woes
The biggest issue in the red zone -- with just six TDs in 18 trips -- is that PSU's offense can't run the ball the way it wants to.
"We know what the problem is," JoePa said. "The problem is we can't just take it and knock people back. ... And when you're not running as well as we'd like to run, the closer you get to the goal line, the tougher it is to throw."
SUBHD: Timeout explanation
Paterno wanted a timeout inside in the 5-yard line in the final seconds of the first half Saturday, but apparently the officials blew the call.
"I won't get into whose fault that was," JoePa said. "That certainly wasn't one of the coach's faults or our players."
He went on to add: "I wanted a timeout, and the [official] didn't give it to me. He said because it was a penalty involved he said he didn't think [we] wanted a timeout. I said, 'What are you talking about? I told you I wanted a timeout.' I tried to call the timeout as soon as the ball was located. And they started the clock, the wrong guy started the clock. The guy that places the ball should start the clock."
SUBHD: Mum on absentees
Paterno cited a new university policy about not disclosing information when asked about the status of defensive end Sean Stanley and cornerback Derrick Thomas, neither of whom made the trip to Iowa for undisclosed reasons.
"I'm not allowed to talk about that," Paterno said. "We've been, I'm telling you, we were told that we're breaking the law if we talk about it.
"If any kid is in any way not allowed to play for one reason or another, we have a long letter from the university administration not to discuss it."
He did add that backup defensive tackle Brandon Ware has had "academic problems." Ware didn't make the trip to Iowa, either.
SUBHD: News and notes
Penn State is hurting at tight end with Garry Gilliam going down for the season with an ACL injury, and true freshman Kevin Haplea now takes over the position. Paterno said there are no plans to move WR Brett Brackett to tight end. ... There also are no plans to move WR Chaz Powell back to defense. ... LBs Chris Colasanti (shoulder) and Bani Gbadyu (ankle) are battling injuries.
Cory Giger can be reached at 949-7031 and firstname.lastname@example.org.