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PSU point-counter point: Defense already due to show improvement

By Neil Rudel

We know Cory loves offense so I’ll take the defense today for the sake of our debate.

Plus I actually believe it.

Ask which unit you expect more from this season, and I would say the offense. But Saturday at Wisconsin is a separate topic.

Mike Yurcich’s track record has produced high-scoring offenses everywhere he’s been, dating back to his tenure at Shippensburg, where his work got noticed by Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State.

This Penn State offense has good skill players and, presumably with an improved Sean Clifford, will be good — in time. But probably not just yet.

To expect the Nittany Lions to go into Camp Randall, one of the Big Ten’s toughest and loudest venues, and score 35 points may be overly optimistic.

Despite their offensive weapons, you’re still dealing with an offensive coordinator making his debut, a quarterback whose psyche needs rebuilt and an offensive line that hasn’t consistently

dominated since it seems like 1994.

So tilt one of the key factors in determining Saturday’s outcome to how well Penn State’s defense plays.

Wisconsin is known for its physicality, meaning the Lions have to control the run, first and foremost. Their defensive line is a question mark with defensive ends Nick Tarburton, a first-year starter, and Arnold Ebikette, a transfer from Temple, trying to replace Jayson (now Odafe) Oweh and Shaka Toney.

The back seven should be strong, led by Jaquan Brisker, one of the nation’s top safeties, and a talented linebacking corps featuring hard-hitting Brandon Smith and up-and-comer Curtis Jacobs flanking Ellis Brooks.

Defense travels. It typically is not as affected by crowd noise as an offense, which must rely on audibles and other line-of-scrimmage communication.

There was plenty of blame to go around for last year’s 0-5 start, and while the offense turned the ball over at an alarming rate, the defense was just as bad — gashed when it mattered at Indiana and allowing a staggering average of 24.5 points in the first half of the disastrous five-game stretch.

It also didn’t create turnovers. The Lions managed a mere four interceptions on the season, lowest in school history. (The 1970 defense had seven alone vs. Missouri in the Orange Bowl.)

Yurcich may be coaching his first Penn State game, but Brent Pry is not.

The Lions defense did not recognize formations, nor react well last year. In fact, the biggest losses over the last few years have come from a pattern of blown leads.

While the offense gets its feet wet Saturday, it will need the defense to do its part, and that should not be too much to ask.

Rudel can be reached at nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

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