TYM: Grades for the Deffense

Brennan and Harrington offer their midterm report cards for the Nittany Lions. See who made the grade and who has to pick it up in the second half of the season.

Welcome to Take Your Marks, the occasional series where FOS staffers Mark Brennan and Mark Harrington discuss and debate topics related to the Penn State football program. In this installment, they offer their midseason grades for the Nittany Lions.


Brennan: I underestimated how much the loss of All-American defensive tackle Jared Odrick would hurt this area. My thinking was that even without the first-round NFL Draft pick, Penn State had recruited so well in this area that the adjustment would not be too difficult. I was wrong. Without Odrick demanding extra attention inside, the Nittany Lion defensive ends have been less than ineffective -- and that was the case even before starters Jack Crawford and Eric Latimore were slowed by injuries. The D-line had played very well against the poorer teams on the schedule but was pushed around by more talented foes. Senior tackle Ollie Ogbu was really the only bright spot inside. On the edge, redshirt sophomore Pete Massaro has made an impact, but he continues to be injury prone.
Grade: C-

Harrington: Odrick's ability to demand double teams was largely taken for granted and although there was initial excitement about Devon Still's abilities there was also skepticism that he could step in and play to a level that required offensive lines to assign multiple players to him. I agree that Ogbu has been solid for the interior. The biggest surprise for me is the drop-off in production we have seen from the defensive ends and particularly Jack Crawford. He was on a path that seemingly had him directed at becoming an impressive pass rusher, however he and Latimore (even before their injuries) have been average at best. Massaro and Sean Stanley (if he can keep out of trouble) could be a promising duo on the edge.
Grade: C


Harrington: I think the 'backers have talent, but it's taken time to shake out due to injuries and indecision among the coaches. The best trio has been Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges and Khairi Fortt, thanks to their speed, athleticism and instincts. I think you can toss Nate Stupar into the mix. This talent could bring the unit closer to where fans expect it to be, but they'll need a healthy streak in order to allow the talent to gel.
Grade: C

Brennan: With three new starters, everyone expected growing pains here. They've come and have been compounded by injuries. The good news is it looks like the top 'backers -- Mauti, Hodges and Fortt, in my book -- are ready for the stretch run. Though all are listed as outside linebackers, the staff must find some way to get them all on the field. All have at least two years of eligibility remaining after 2010, too. This season is already a disappointment. Why not start building for the end of this year and beyond?
Grade: C-


Brennan: Penn State ranks 18th in the nation in passing yards allowed per game, a solid number considering how poor the team's pass rush has been (only eight sacks). Unfortunately, the one playmaker on defense -- free safety Nick Sukay (three interceptions, one forced fumble) -- has been lost for the season due to a chest injury. Drew Astorino, who has been consistently inconsistent the past two seasons, now moves from strong to free safety, with converted linebacker Andrew Dailey taking over at strong safety. Not exactly a couple of burners, so that could be a trouble spot. D'Anton Lynn has quietly excelled at one corner spot while undersized Stephon Morris has been picked on a bit on the other side.
Grade: B-

Harrington: The issue with the secondary has been consistency, or a lack there of. The loss of Sukay and Derrick Thomas hurt the overall depth of the unit, but this group has the basics to perform. However, Lynn, Morris, Astorino and Dailey have all had ups and downs. The move of Chaz Powell back to corner is an interesting one which allows the coaches to consider a shift of Lynn to safety. However, that is a direction the staff seems to be avoiding. At this point the unit has to step up and perform and also stay healthy since the depth is pretty shallow. Given the speed and experience of this group, though, I was hoping for greater consistency.
Grade: C


Harrington: The lack of pressure from the defensive line has me wondering about the coaching here. It's not that Larry Johnson can't identify and mold talent into a formidable line -- we clearly know he can. But something is amiss here. The line simply fails to penetrate opposing pockets, which is all about execution. With Crawford and Latimore struggling and Massaro and Stanley showing promise, why has it taken injuries to make personnel shifts? I also wonder about the decision to keep Bani Gbadyu in the lineup when you have someone like Fortt on the bench.
Grade: C-

Brennan: If you look at the numbers, Penn State has been fine defensively, ranking fifth in the Big Ten in total yards allowed and -- more importantly -- fourth in scoring defense. But the issues here go beyond the stats. More often than not, and especially against top opponents, the Lions have come out flat and allowed early scores, putting the team's woeful offense in a hole. And the big plays have been few and far between. Penn State does not have a defensive score and receiver Brett Brackett is tied for the team lead in forced fumbles -- with one. The defensive coaching staff has not been at the top of its game this season when it comes to preparing the Lions to be ready at the opening kick or instilling the confidence needed to make big plays.
Grade: C-


Brennan: Poor starts. A lack of turnovers. Few sacks. Flat-out lousy tackling at times. Granted, this unit has been crushed by injuries. But there were problems with the performances of key players even before the injury issues reached epidemic proportions. The capper was allowing 33 points to an unranked Illinois team that absorbed 26-6 beating at Michigan State a week later. All of the injuries in the world were no excuse for that.
Grade: C-

Harrington: Injuries aside, the basics with tackling and angles have been inexcusable and have plagued this squad all season. Toss in a lack of intensity in several games and this defense has certainly been a letdown given where PSU has been defensively over the past decade. Few fans expected to see this sort of drop-off in production even with the loss of guys like Odrick, Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman.

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