In 2005 and 2006, the Penn State defense ranked among the top 15 in the country, allowing 14.4 points in 25 games.
This year, with just one
senior among its starters, the Lions have
allowed minus-3 rushing yards,
10 points and 258 total yards
in two games.
Seemingly irreplaceable players graduate - Paul Posluszny last year, Tamba Hali in 2005 - and nothing changes.
That's not dumb luck.
"[Bradley] really sets the tone," linebacker Sean Lee said. "He's intense, does whatever it takes. He comes in at 3:30 in the morning to get ready for the next week. His attitude, that's us, that's how we play."
In a 31-10 win over Notre Dame on Saturday, the defense essentially pitched a shutout. Charlie Weis' offensive genius got sent into the corner with a dunce cap, generating all of
144 yards in total offense and scoring only when it was set up by either the Penn State offense or special teams.
The Irish scored its lone touchdown after Anthony Morelli all but used a laser pointer to telegraph his pass to Derrick
Williams, allowing Darrin Walls to pick it off and scamper 73 yards for the return. The Irish's other points came after the
Nittany Lions' special teams
allowed Tom Zbikowski a 47-yard return to set up first-and-goal from the 7-yard line.
Oh, and by the way, the defense held. Notre Dame couldn't move the ball 21 feet and had to settle for a field goal.
"They just kept coming, and coming and coming and getting to the ball," Bradley said. "It was a great effort, especially in the red zone."
It was also sweet revenge after Notre Dame embarrassed the
Lions last year, 41-17, scoring more points than any team since Michigan State scored 41 in the final game of 2003.
"I told them four things that are on the do not repeat list," Bradley said when asked how he inspired his defense this week.
"People don't say it, but that was the only game we got blown out and we really wanted our
revenge," Lee said.
The closer's mentality of the defense grows all the more
important as Joe Paterno
continues to make every day a take your child to work day. The playcalling of Jay Paterno (who is technically the quarterbacks coach but tellingly was brought into the postgame media room Saturday to talk about the offensive playcalling), is at best uninspired and at worst, imbecilic.
Up 14-7 against a Notre Dame offense that wasn't going to score again unless the PSU
offense set it up, Penn State ran a ridiculously unnecessary
double-reverse that was supposed to end with Deon Butler throwing the football. Instead it ended with Justin Brown dropping Butler for an 11-yard loss and ultimately, a punt.
You can get away with those things against Notre Dame and Buffalo this week. But what
happens in October, when in the span of 3 weeks, Wisconsin and Ohio State come to Beaver
The defense, you have to
figure, will keep Penn State in games. The linebackers and
secondary are so good that the fact that the defensive line is
desperately young and inexperienced seems irrelevant. The
Lions welcomed freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen to the
college game with six sacks.
But this isn't soccer. In football, eventually someone scores, which means eventually, the offense has to be able to stand up without its defense propping it up, a comfort zone that frankly the offense seems to be getting
a little too comfy with.
"[The defense] is comforting and it has been that way for the past 4 or 5 years," wide receiver Jordan Norwood said. "That's something that we will have for the rest of the season and hopefully we will be able to rely on them a little bit when we are not producing as much on offense."
As Joe Paterno pushes through his octogenarian years, the university refuses to announce his successor. In an age where college sports programs suddenly seem to interpret themselves as monarchies (Bob Knight will bequeath Texas Tech to Pat Knight) it is alarming to think where the line of succession could lead in Happy Valley.
It's really not that complicated.
Just tab the coach of the year. *
Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org