O'Brien tackles Penn State's defensive problems

Central Florida's William Stanback eludes Penn State's Deion Barnes in the Lions' 34-31 loss. Coach Bill O'Brien was especially critical of his team's tackling. York Daily Record
Central Florida's William Stanback eludes Penn State's Deion Barnes in the Lions' 34-31 loss. Coach Bill O'Brien was especially critical of his team's tackling. York Daily Record
Posted: September 19, 2013

As expected, Bill O'Brien's primary complaint about Penn State's mediocre defensive performance against Central Florida concerned poor tackling.

"Sometimes we tackled them, sometimes we didn't," the Nittany Lions coach said Tuesday at his weekly teleconference with reporters.

The Lions (2-1) yielded 507 total yards Saturday night in their 34-31 loss to UCF at Beaver Stadium. The Knights' skill players relied on their speed combined with a dozen - maybe two dozen, maybe more - missed tackles to churn out big plays, 10 of 20 yards or more.

But O'Brien immediately dismissed the notion that the missed tackles were attributable to the fact that Penn State employs the "thud" method at practice - hitting the ballcarrier but not bringing him to the ground - because of depth issues to avoid injury.

"It has nothing to do with thud; 120 teams in the country all basically practice with thud," he said. "It's very rare that teams go live anymore. If you look at pro football, you're only allowed 17 live practices a year, and that's trickled down to college.

"What [tackling] has to do is, to be in better football position, being aligned correctly . . . I felt we were aligned improperly sometimes. So those are things we can correct. We have to do better and we will do better."

The Lions' secondary did not cover well against UCF quarterback Blake Bortles, who completed 20 of 27 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns. Sophomore corners Jordan Lucas and Trevor Williams, both first-year starters, were burned on numerous occasions.

"They learned a lot," O'Brien said. "They had their share of good plays and they had their share of not-so-good plays."

Penn State did not get much of a pass rush on Bortles, who released the ball quickly. Still, there is concern about its best pass rusher, sophomore defensive end Deion Barnes, the former Northeast High star who led the team last year with six sacks and 10 tackles for loss.

Barnes has just five tackles in three games, with neither a sack nor a tackle for loss. O'Brien, however, believes that Barnes is "playing with great effort" and that opposing teams are gearing their offenses to avoid him.

"He's an excellent player," he said. "I believe that people are running away from him. I think that people are giving the tackles help in protection with him, and I would, too. So we've got to do things to move him around and help him out a little bit and we will, and we have. But Deion, to me, is playing well."

The Nittany Lions conclude their nonconference schedule Saturday at Beaver Stadium against Kent State (1-2). O'Brien hopes they have learned lessons from their loss even if it was a most painful way to learn them.

"Losing's brutal," he said. "You do not want to lose. Losing is just not a good feeling. But what you have to do as a coach and as a player in this sport, you immediately have to pick yourself right back up."

Nittany notes. O'Brien said the only injury of note involved starting linebacker Mike Hull, who returned from a knee injury against UCF but did not look to be 100 percent. "He was sore [Monday] and Sunday," he said. "We're going to have to watch him in practice and see how he is." The coach said other than a few bumps and bruises, everyone else was fine. . . . O'Brien urged fans coming to the game to wear blue to support the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. "Like I've said from day one, one of our commitments here as a football program is to help put an end to that horrible thing called child abuse," he said. "It's terrible. So we're doing our part Saturday with that."

Contact Joe Juliano at jjuliano@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @JoeJulesInq.

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