Penn State focusing on slowing down Alabama running back Trent Richardson

Posted: September 08, 2011

After losing to Alabama in the second game of the 2010 season, Penn State left Tuscaloosa with a lot of haunting memories, perhaps the worst being watching its defensive players bounce off running back Trent Richardson like so many gnats off a windshield.

The 5-foot-11, 224-pound Richardson, filling in for Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, rushed for 144 yards - still his career high - on that muggy night, and caught four passes for 46 yards in the Crimson Tide's 24-3 victory. The missed tackles by the Nittany Lions easily numbered in double figures.

"Our performance was kind of embarrassing," linebacker Michael Mauti said Wednesday.

So when the Lions see Richardson, who resembles a young Herschel Walker with his combination of power and speed, once again Saturday at Beaver Stadium, they know they need to be fundamentally sound with their tackling, and bring a lot of guys around him.

"He had a lot of yards after contact," defensive end Jack Crawford said, "so we really focused on [tackling] in the spring and earlier this season. We have to bring him down to the ground. He's a strong back and we really have to get as many bodies on him as possible."

"It's going to be the same challenge" as last year, Mauti said, "and we need to step up to that challenge better than we did last year. We've been working on that. We have more experienced guys that know what it takes to get the job done."

Now the featured back for the third-ranked Tide, Richardson did not put up great numbers in a 48-7 season-opening win over Kent State. While he scored three TDs, he gained only 37 yards on 13 carries.

The Alabama defense made sure the starters did not have to play too long in the Labor Day weekend heat, but Kent State played technically sound football in dealing with Richardson. Players on the Penn State defense noticed it during their film study.

"They did a good job of gang-tackling him and bringing him down," said Crawford, a former star at St. Augustine Prep in South Jersey.

The Kent State game tape appeared to encourage junior linebacker Gerald Hodges, who suffered a hairline fracture of his left fibula on the opening kickoff last year at Alabama.

"When you do a great job, you deserve the praise that you get," said Hodges, a product of Paulsboro High. "But those guys are human like we all are. They're no different a person than we are. We all work hard in the offseason, we all lift, we all do different things.

"There should be no reason why we can't stop those guys just like Kent State did. I'm definitely looking forward to getting out there and playing them."

The Penn State defense didn't struggle last year just with Richardson. The Nittany Lions faced six opponents, all in the Big Ten, that had a runner gain more than 100 yards against them, led by the 191 yards rolled up by Michigan's Denard Robinson.

But there's optimism throughout the team that the unit this year is better, although Saturday will mark its first big test. Mauti said the Lions have something to prove.

"We're looking forward to getting out there and playing against a big-time opponent," he said. "It's about getting out there and not really saying anything but just letting people know by our play that we're going to get this thing back on track."


Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.

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