Penn State looks for better cornerback play vs. Kent State

Storm Johnson and the Knights got the better of Jordan Lucas (9) and the defense last Saturday. ABBY DREY / Centre Daily Times
Storm Johnson and the Knights got the better of Jordan Lucas (9) and the defense last Saturday. ABBY DREY / Centre Daily Times
Posted: September 22, 2013

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Penn State's young cornerbacks impressed in their first two games as new starters before coming back to earth last week with a clunk against Central Florida.

Sophomores Jordan Lucas and Trevor Williams appeared to be a step slow or leaning the wrong way the majority of the time whenever quarterback Blake Bortles threw the football in their direction to one of several talented receivers. The proof showed on the scoreboard: UCF 34, Penn State 31.

But it's a new week for the Lions on Saturday at Beaver Stadium with Kent State (1-2) coming to town. The personnel in the Golden Flashes' passing game do not have the skilled depth of the Knights. The quarterback is a redshirt freshman with three games of experience.

The defense of Penn State (2-1) is confident that it can tackle better, cover better, and correct the mistakes that occurred last week at a disturbing rate. The 6-foot, 193-pound Lucas possesses that confidence.

"I don't think it was as bad as the media made it sound," Lucas said. "I had some good plays. I had some not-so-good plays. What it comes down to is, me looking at the film. I know what the mistakes I made were, and I've just got to get better this week, that's all. You can't take a step back. . . . We have to play a little bit more aggressively and stick with our keys."

Lions coach Bill O'Brien feels his team practiced very well this week and is confident it has put the defeat in the rearview mirror. As for his young cornerbacks, he thinks they learned a lot.

"Lucas is a really good player - tough, strong, good size, good ball skills," he said. "He made his share of mistakes [last] Saturday, but he also made some real good plays, like a great tackle on the 5-yard line on one of their drives. He'll get better and better because he works extremely hard."

O'Brien said he could say the same for Williams, who moved from wide receiver to cornerback in the spring.

"It's really only his third game at corner," he said. "No excuse. We expect these guys to go out and play well, but these are young guys. There's a lot of improvement to make."

In the trenches, the Lions didn't have much of a pass rush last week. They did not sack Bortles once, as UCF neutralized tackle DaQuan Jones and end Deion Barnes. Barnes, the former Northeast High star, still is looking for his first sack of 2013.

Penn State will need to get some heat on Colin Reardon, Kent State's redshirt freshman quarterback, who has completed almost 66 percent of his passes for 548 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions.

If the weather forecast for Saturday - an 80 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms - is correct, Reardon and Penn State's Christian Hackenberg must deal with a wet football and slippery footing. But since the receivers know where they want to go, the onus is on the secondary to try to stay close.


Kent State at Penn State

When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m.

Where: Beaver Stadium, State College.

Records: Kent State, 1-2. Penn State, 2-1.

TV/Radio: Big Ten Network; WNTP-AM (990), WNPV-AM (1440).

Coaches: Kent State, Paul Haynes (1st season, 1-2); Penn State, Bill O'Brien (2d season, 10-5).

Series: Penn State is 3-0 against Kent State, but the victories in 2003 and 2010 have been vacated because of NCAA sanctions.

Weather advisory: The National Weather Service is calling for an 80 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms during the game.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

The Penn State secondary, particularly its young cornerbacks, needs to bounce back after allowing Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles to complete 74 percent of his passes and average 10.7 yards per attempt.

Kent State senior running back Dri Archer, an outstanding returner who finished fifth nationally last year in all-purpose yards and scored 23 touchdowns, is questionable for Saturday with a sprained ankle that limited him to just a few plays last week against Louisiana State.

This is a recording: The Nittany Lions need to figure out how to convert third downs, having gone 4 of 34 (11.8 percent) in their first three games. What's encouraging is that Kent State has allowed opponents to convert nearly 43 percent thus far.

THREE THINGS YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW

Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson has five receptions of more than 40 yards in his first three games. Averaging 17.6 yards per catch, Robinson is fourth in FBS with 405 yards receiving.

Nittany Lions coach Bill O'Brien has played seven true freshmen this season, headed by starting quarterback Christian Hackenberg, but says he does not anticipate any additional true freshmen seeing playing time, meaning they will redshirt.

Golden Flashes defensive tackle Roosevelt Nix, a 5-foot-11, 267-pound senior, was on three preseason watch lists for national awards and ranks second among active FBS players with 56 tackles for loss.

-Joe Juliano


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

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