Defense ready to forget, get ready for Illinois

What happened Saturday in Columbus was the furthest thing from a typical Penn State defensive effort anyone has ever seen, and the Nittany Lion players can’t wait to show everyone they’re much better than that.

“Once you have a loss like that, you want to get that bad taste out of your mouth,” linebacker Mike Hull said.

The bad taste was a 63-14 loss to Ohio State.

The loss looked bad, but the players aren’t getting caught up in the huge point differential.

“It doesn’t matter if you lose by one or lose by 100, it all hurts the same,” safety Malcolm Willis said.

It does matter, though, when the opponent gains 686 yards, the most ever allowed by a Penn State defense.

“Losing by that much kind of just exposed some things,” Hull said, “but really, I think a loss is a loss, whether it’s by a point or seven touchdowns.”

The Buckeyes had more talent on offense than PSU had on defense. But that only accounts for some of the problems.

The rest, and why the game got so far out of hand, came down primarily to communication issues by the Lions’ defense.

“We need to communicate better as a defense, and some of the things that we’re doing we need to clean up because a lot of guys aren’t on the same page, like you saw last Saturday,” Hull said.

Essentially what happens on every play is that the defensive players go through a series of checks to determine how the opponent is lined up and what play it will try to run. Through extensive film study, Hull said, the defenders should know the tendencies entering the game.

But problems arise when some players come to one conclusion based on what they’re seeing, while others read their checks and come to a different conclusion.

“We weren’t really confused,” Hull said. “It’s just sometimes whenever there’s a lot of different checks to make, some guys are doing one thing and other guys are doing another thing. You have to play 11 guys as a unit.”

The schemes, designed by defensive coordinator John Butler, appear to be relatively complex, based on comments this week by coach Bill O’Brien about the need to simplifying things.

Hull was asked if the schemes are too complicated or too difficult to learn.

“No, I don’t think it’s too difficult to learn,” he said. “Last year we had a lot more in. It’s just a matter of things changing week to week, different offenses posing different problems. Teams are going faster paced nowadays, so it’s hard to get everyone on the same [page], everything communicated before the snap.”

Neither O’Brien nor the defensive players made available to the media this week would go into much detail about exactly what it means to simplify things. Hull suggested that one aspect is making fewer checks once the offense starts its motions.

It boils down to just playing by instincts more, making football plays and trying not to overthink things on checks.

“It would just help people play faster so they’re not thinking as much,” Hull said.

“Us playing faster just means our communication level is at its highest,” Willis said.

Hull said practices this week have been “real energetic” and that the players “were smacking people out there.” They’re angry at what happened Saturday, and they know the only thing they can do about it now is to play better this week against Illinois.

“We’re excited to get back out there and prove ourselves again,” Hull said.