PSU defense must find ways to pressure OSU QB Fields

Penn State’s defense is not as good as everyone thought it was just a few weeks ago, which has been proven the past two games with the Nittany Lions looking inept at times against the pass.

If PSU doesn’t fix that Saturday, it is going to get pounded by Ohio State.

A painful reminder: The last time the Lions visited The Horseshoe, JT Barrett completed 16 passes in a row to lead the Buckeyes back from a big fourth-quarter deficit to stun PSU, 39-38.

Barrett’s now gone after what seemed like a nine-year college career, and the guy who replaced him, Justin Fields, is an even better passer.

Let’s face it, Penn State’s secondary is average at best, and that may be kind. The defensive backs aren’t great in one-on-one coverage, they don’t tackle all that well and they seem to commit a lot of bad, untimely penalties.

Couple all of that with the scheme PSU plays — giving lots of cushion to receivers — and it’s no wonder that any competent passing offense can have success throwing the ball.

It’s absolutely imperative for the Lions to get pressure on the quarterback. They have to win the battles up front, get a strong push and make life more difficult for the QB in the pocket.

That helps the secondary in a big way.

And if the Lions don’t get pressure while facing a quarterback who gets rid of the ball quickly, the secondary gets hung out to dry.

Minnesota did just that. Indiana, too. Michigan, as well, in the second half. All had success throwing the ball.

There’s not much reason to believe things will be any different against Ohio State.

The Lions need big games on the edge from Yetur Gross-Matos and Shaka Toney, as well as from Robert Windsor and Antonio Shelton in the middle. Penn State has good D-line depth, but the backups just simply aren’t as good as the starters, so the rotations could be more limited.

What makes Ohio State such a challenge is that it can throw the ball and run the ball at elite levels. So while we can focus heavily on how much the Lions need to get pressure on Fields, they also have to contend with an outstanding running back in J.K. Dobbins, while going up against an outstanding offensive line.

It’s amazing how many college teams are only good at one thing on offense — either the run or the pass. Few teams excel in both areas, and Penn State often feasts on those kinds of teams. The Lions rarely struggle against one-dimensional offenses.

But when they face dynamic, multi-faceted offenses, it’s often a different story.

Ohio State has a tremendous offense, so it’s like a pick-your-poison situation. Focus heavily on stopping the run, the Buckeyes get you through the air. Scheme to shut down the passing game, and they’ll run on you all day.

Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry has done a nice job against Ohio State for most of the past two matchups. The Lions held the Buckeyes to 27 points last year, and for the first three quarters two years ago, Ohio State had just 20 points. Then it exploded for 19 in the fourth quarter behind Barrett’s 16 consecutive completions.

It’s doubtful Penn State can score 30 points on this Ohio State defense, so the Lions are going to have to hold the Buckeyes under 30 to have any chance.

Cory Giger can be reached at cgiger@altoonamirror.com.