Giger: Blowout loss brings scrutiny for PSU defensive coordinator Butler
Talk about a horrible weekend of football for Pennsylvania, with Penn State getting humiliated by Ohio State, 63-14, the Steelers looking lousy in a 21-18 loss to Oakland, the Eagles’ offense looking terrible in a 15-7 loss to the Giants, Pitt losing to Navy, 24-21, and Temple falling to SMU, 59-49.
Worst of all was the historic collapse by the Penn State defense, which played its worst game ever. That’s ever, as in going back to 1887, as the Nittany Lions gave up a school-record 686 yards of offense against the Buckeyes.
This figures to be a tough week for PSU defensive coordinator John Butler, who already has and will continue to receive loads of criticism for what took place Saturday.
When you start throwing around historic stats like the one above and the fact that Penn State has allowed more than 40 points in three straight games for the first time since 1899, hard questions have to be asked about the defensive coordinator.
Butler is in his first season in that position, and given the defense’s struggles so far, it’s impossible not to wonder if he’s the right man for the job.
Now, granted, the Lions have undeniable depth issues because of the NCAA sanctions with only 61 scholarship players. That’s certainly part of the problem.
Regardless, there is absolutely no excuse for Penn State’s defense to look completely lost in every facet the way it did against the Buckeyes.
There are a number of good defensive players on the team, such as tackle DaQuan Jones, linebackers Mike Hull and Glenn Carson, end Deion Barnes, cornerback/safety Adrian Amos and cornerback Jordan Lucas. Even if there’s not great depth, a unit featuring those guys should be able to avoid giving up 686 yards and nine touchdowns.
More so than just the staggering numbers Saturday — another of which was giving up a whopping 8.9 yards per play — is how the defense looked utterly confused all night.
There were numerous communication breakdowns that allowed Buckeye receivers to catch passes with no defender within 10 or more yards of them.
Making it more troubling, PSU was coming off a bye week, which you’d think was spent familiarizing everyone with exactly what Ohio State and quarterback Braxton Miller try to do in every situation.
Yes, Miller is without question a very, very good college quarterback, and he makes a lot of defenses look bad.
But those defenses aren’t Penn State.
Never in 100 years would you think a team could destroy a PSU defense like that, because it’s never happened in more than 100 years.
So what’s the issue?
Are Penn State’s defensive players that bad? Or are the schemes and coaching the problem? As always, the answer probably lies somewhere in between.
The quarterback usually gets more credit than he deserves when his team wins and almost always gets more blame after a loss.
In this case, trying to figure out just how much blame Butler deserves is impossible for any outside observer. We’re not at practice. We don’t know if the players are doing what they’re told during games. We don’t know if Butler’s feisty-on-the-verge-of-angry style of coaching is effective and gets through to the young men on the team.
It’s possible that Butler is a fantastic defensive coordinator and that none of what has happened with the defensive meltdowns this season is really his fault. Perhaps it’s just bad circumstances piling up on each other, and it certainly doesn’t help that PSU’s offense hasn’t taken care of its end of the bargain with very disappointing showings in the losses to Indiana and Ohio State.
Either way, Butler and the Lions’ defense have five games left to reverse this season’s trend that has become historic for all the wrong reasons.
Follow Giger on Twitter @CoryGiger.