Defense facing concerns

Penn State’s offense bailed out the defense a number of times last season, and once again this year, the Nittany Lions should be able to score a ton of points.

“We have weapons from top to bottom at almost every single position,” receiver DaeSean Hamilton said. “For us to drop 40 points … that’s an expectation for us.”

Given that, PSU’s defense won’t have to be great for the team to accomplish big things. There could be a game or two, however, when the offense struggles and the defense has to pick up the slack.

Whether the defense will be capable of doing that is one of the biggest questions the Lions face this fall.

“I feel like a lot of times we bent but didn’t fold,” linebacker Jason Cabinda said of last year’s defense.

The defense did fold in the Rose Bowl against USC, giving up 52 points, although some were after turnovers by the offense.

One of the big concerns with the defense last year was that it struggled in the first half of a number of games.

Pitt, Michigan and Wisconsin all scored 28 points on the Lions in the first half, while USC had 27. Even Michigan State moved the ball up and down the field the entire first half, scoring on all four possessions, although PSU tightened up each time by holding the Spartans to field goals.

Penn State was a second-half team on both sides of the ball a year ago, and when the offense started getting things going, so did the defense.

This year, though, the Lions need to focus on better defensive play early in games so they don’t put extra pressure on the offense.

“I think we can, from the jump at the beginning of games, kind of just shut things down,” Cabinda said at the recent Lift for Life event. “Getting off on third down especially. There were so many times where we would play really good defense, and then we would bail them out with a penalty or a dumb mistake that created a first down.

“It’s just being a little bit more disciplined, and then at the same time just kind of having the right mindset of, third down, we’ve got to shut this down, get off the field, save our feet, save our legs.”

Penn State allowed 25.4 points per game a season ago, but the first-half total was 15.9. If the Lions can score 40 every game, it won’t matter if they give up 30 — but there always are those outlier games.

The defense suffered some major personnel losses, including playmaking linebacker Brandon Bell and defensive ends Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan. Starting cornerback John Reid suffered a knee injury in the spring and is expected to miss the season.

Still, both Cabinda and safety Marcus Allen mentioned that most guys on defense have more experience this season, so they’ll be able to react better and play more aggressively.

“We have a lot of veterans on the field,” Allen said Tuesday at Big Ten media days in Chicago. “You don’t really have to tell someone what to do as much.”

With experience, Cabinda said, comes confidence.

“This team has got a lot of depth, a lot of dudes who can play,” Cabinda said. “So I think the confidence level defensively and offensively is kind of through the roof right now.

“I think that’s going to help. There’s not really going to be the same jitters we had in some of those first halves of some of those games.”