Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, September 9, 2017
The numbers have been impressive. In fact, they have been dominating. This looks like a unit capable of leading No. 4 Penn State to another Big Ten championship.
I?m talking about the Nittany Lion defense. Not the offense.
This unit is sneaky good and better than you think. In the opener vs. Akron, the Nittany Lions rationed overmatched Akron to just 159 yards, with 73 coming on the ground and 86 in the air, en route to a 52-0 shutout.
It was more of the same in Saturday's 33-14 win vs. longtime rival Pitt. Penn State yielded just 342 yards with 187 coming through the air and 155 on the ground. Compare that to last year?s game vs. Pitt, which the Nittany Lions lost, 42-39, when the Panthers had 432 yards with 341 coming on the ground.
The defense had more questions than the offense when the season began. The Nittany Lions had five starters to replace on defense. The line lost stalwart ends in Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan. And the linebacking corps was without Brandon Bell. And the secondary had work to do with safety Malik Golden gone and star corner John Reid out with injury. But, coordinator Brent Pry has done a great job assembling a formidable and underrated unit.
The Nittany Lions are developing some star power to match the offensive standouts. Shareef Miller is looking like a force off the edge along with Ryan Buchholz. Manny Bowen, Cam Brown, Jarvis Miller and Jason Cabinda are holding up Penn State?s reputation as ?Linebacker U.? The secondary is coming together nicely behind stud Marcus Allen, who is a linebacker masquerading as a safety. And corner Grant Haley is a cut above.
Let's not forget about the prolific offense, though. The Trace McSorley- and Saquon Barkley-led unit has been impressive in staking the team to a 2-0 start. There is no shortage of weapons on the edge with wideouts like Juwan Johnson, Saeed Blacknall, DeAndre Thompkins and DaeSean Hamilton. And is there a better tight end in the Big Ten than Mike Gesicki? Nope. Plus, the offensive line-a work in progress for a few seasons-finally looks like a strong point.
Offense, defense, it's there for the Nittany Lions, who look every bit the part of the No. 4 team in the nation.
Up next is a visit from Georgia State before the Big Ten opener at Iowa. It?s going to be fun to see how good this Penn State squad is on offense–and defense.