Willis Talks About Defending IU

Sophomore free safety says the Nittany Lions are not taking QB Ben Chappell lightly, even if he is not nearly as mobile as the passers PSU faced in the last three games.

Coming off back-to-back-to-back games in which it has faced the three best dual-threat quarterbacks in the Big Ten, the Penn State defense must prepare for a completely different style of passer this week.

Indiana's Ben Chappell leads the conference and ranks eighth nationally in passing yards per game with 273. And yet the Hoosier senior has rushed for a grand total of 13 yards through 10 games.

The last three QBs the Nittany Lions went up against -- Michigan's Denard Robinson (1,417), Northwestern's Dan Persa (519) and Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor (512) -- have combined for 2,448 rushing yards (not to mention 6,707 passing yards) so far this season.

So facing a one-dimensional quarterback like Chappell should be easy, right? Not according to sophomore free safety Malcolm Willis, who will be making his fourth career start in the game at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.

“It's not that big of a difference,” Willis said. “If he sees an open lane, he's going to take it. The past few weeks, with the quarterbacks we've faced, just because they had running ability doesn't make them any better than Ben Chappell.”

Of course, it helps that the Hoosier offense is geared entirely to the quarterback. Take the offensive line. Indiana ranks last in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game with 104.1. Yet the team ranks second in fewest sacks allowed with nine all season and only five of those in Big Ten play.

Even Wisconsin, which hammered the Hoosiers 83-20 in Madison last week, came up with just one sack in the game.

Part of that is the play of the line. But a sophisticated passing attack also keeps defenses honest, especially secondaries.

“They have a lot of different combination routes, which are really difficult to cover,” Willis said. “You just have to make sure you have all your checks -- the different formations, the different receiver sets -- and know who you are supposed to be covering.”

Because IU's loss to the Badgers was so lopsided, the Penn State defense has spent little time focusing on video from that game. Instead, the Lions are zeroing in on the previous week's action, in which the Hoosiers dropped an 18-13 home contest to Iowa.

“They played those guys tough,” Willis said. “If it wasn't for a dropped ball at the end of the game, they would have beaten Iowa, a team we struggled with.”

The Hawkeyes clocked PSU 24-3 earlier this season in a game where the Lions were bad from start to finish. Of late, Penn State has had a different problem -- only playing well for one half.

Joe Paterno's club fell behind Northwestern 21-0 before a late second-quarter touchdown and strong final 30 minutes resulted in a 35-21 win. Last week, PSU had a 14-3 third-quarter lead at Ohio State before folding in the second half of the 38-14 loss.

About the only defensive highlight in the final half against the Buckeyes was Willis' first career interception, which thwarted an OSU drive at the PSU 2-yard line.

With the struggles against the Wildcats and Buckeyes fresh in his mind, Willis said it really doesn't matter what style of QB Indiana trots out Saturday.

“Regardless of who the quarterback is, we need to come out with the same intensity we had in the first half against Ohio State and the second half against Northwestern,” he said.

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