Luckily for the Nittany Lions, the front four of their vaunted defense is the best Miami will see all season. All-Americans or not, McKinnie and Gonzalez will have their hands full. Beefy 300 lb. tackles, Jimmy Kennedy and Anthony Adams clog the middle, leaving absolutely no room for running backs to carry the ball upfield. Two more 300 lb. beasts wait behind them in Tyler Valoczki and Tim Falls. The bookends of the defensive line, Michael Haynes and Bob Jones, continue the recent tradition of Courtney Brown, Brad Scioli, and Justin Kurpeikis in terrorizing opposing quarterbacks. Jones wrestled last year for the Nittany Lions for the fun of it. Haynes enjoys making opponents look stupid.
The d-line will cause terror for the Hurricanes and have Dorsey quaking on more than one occasion. Since Miami has no semblance of a running game anyway, consider moving the ball on this line null and void. It won't happen, not in a million years. If a miracle occurs and Kennedy or Adams doesn't get a big paw on a back, right there waiting in the wings, the focal point of the Penn State defense, Shamar Finney, will wait to knock any runner out of his shoes. Finney started last season on the outside, commanding attention early with an interception return of 49 yards for a touchdown against Illinois. Finney moved inside when the usually stable Ron Graham fell prey to his own ego. Now, hungry more than ever, Graham fights off misperceptions on the outside with a group of unheralded talented linebackers.
Graham will accompany Derek Wake, Gino Capone, Tom Williams, and Deryck Toles on the outside. Wake blocked two punts in a game last year against Purdue, which led to two Lions touchdowns. Toles, a madman who can't be blocked, suffers from a rare disorder which limits his time to 35 plays per game, but those 35 are pure adrenaline and excitement. Capone and Williams surprised in the spring, vaulting them to near the top of the depth chart.
Offenses can't run against this defense. Why is that the case? First, defensive coordinator Tom Bradley still uses the bend-but-don't-break approach of former coordinator Jerry Sandusky, but spices his defensive schemes up even more. This defensive front lost almost nobody from a season ago. Second, Paterno added Ron Vanderlinden to the coaching staff. Vanderlinden headed the Northwestern defense during their run to the roses in 1995. At Maryland as a head coach, Vanderlinden changed the Terrapins program from a squad with offense and no defense to one with a suffocating defense and no offense. Best of all, Vanderlinden now works with the more talent at linebacker than he's accustomed. Penn State isn't Linebacker U. for nothing.
Miami should think pass during the first 15 plays they script and they better think pass the rest of the game. Some say the defensive backfield is the weakest link of the Penn State defense. Well, of course it is. It's pretty difficult to compare a cheeseburger to filet mignon. A lot of people live off cheeseburgers from Burger King. Some schools, including Oklahoma a year ago, win national championships with quarter-pounders at quarterback. Consider the secondary a blue-collar unit on a blue-collar team in a blue-collar town. The locals respect them. Outsiders will appreciate the solid play when they catch their first glimpse.
Bruce Branch lines up at right cornerback making Dorsey's day horrible in finding his favorite target, burner Daryl Jones. Call Branch the glove. He'll be closer to Jones than bees on honey. Across the field, big Bryan Scott is a great one in the making. He reminds the Lion contingent of Bhawoh Jue, a 2001 third-round draft choice of the Green Bay Packers.
The defense has a host of Lions battling at safety. Shawn Mayer returns after injuring his ACL. Sam Crenshaw fights for playing time after making a transition from wide receiver. Yaacov Yisrael has his spot sewed up in the secondary after solid play a season ago.
The shade of green of this secondary matches the likeness of the shade of the Miami receiving corps. If there's a Santana Moss in that group, I haven't seen him. It won't take much to frustrate this group of receivers. Penn State's secondary will do just fine. No one expected Duffy Cobbs and Ray Isom to handcuff Testaverde's wideouts in the '87 Fiesta Bowl, but Paterno's troops accomplished the work in the trenches. Sure, Miami's offense will arrive in Beaver Stadium with its bells and whistles and flashes of brilliance. They still have to go to war. You show me a Big East team that's been in battle three times per year for the past eight years, and I'll show you a Big Ten team that's seen the horrors every week for nearly a decade. When it comes to physical toughness, the Nittany Lions defense knows the Big East doesn't compare to the Big Ten. The Lions are battle tested, tried and true. The Hurricanes have to prove they belong on the same football field as a true black and blue pigskin squad.
Brian K. Hall is a sports editor for "The Collegian" – Penn State's official newspaper – as well as a full time PSU student. Check out the latest news on the Nittany Lions at http://www.collegian.psu.edu or send all comments and correspondence to Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org
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