Defense Produces When it Matters

Ugly or not, Penn State improves to 6-1 with its 23-18 victory over Purdue at Beaver Stadium. The Lions hope to keep it up in the stretch run of the season.

Asked to assess Penn State's 23-18 victory over Purdue -- yet another taffy pull on the part of a PSU team that does not, or perhaps cannot, do things easily -- defensive coordinator Tom Bradley boiled things down as follows: “People say 'ugly.' Who cares? … We're not going to the prom here. We're just trying to win games.”

No, the Nittany Lions, now 6-1, are not always pretty. But they have developed a personality over the first half (i.e., the easy part) of their schedule -- and a combative one, at that. They will battle on defense. They will try to bludgeon opponents with Silas Redd, their hard-running sophomore tailback. They will get what they can out of their two-headed quarterback.

And they will let the chips fall where they may.

Bradley, part of the staff for 33 years, hearkened back to 1985-86, when every Penn State game seemed to be a nip-and-tuck affair. In all the Lions won 23 of 24 over those two years, including the memorable Fiesta Bowl over Miami for the '86 national championship.

“I think five of the games came down to the hands team,” said Bradley, who then directed the linebackers and special teams. “Coaching kickoff return is fun until it's the hands team. Then the lunch is coming up.”

No one is confusing this edition of the Lions with either of those clubs, except in this very specific way: To date they have managed to affect Bradley's digestive tract in much the same way.

“To win a lot of games,” he said, “you have to win them somehow, whether it's special teams, defense, offense.”

Or all of the above, as was the case against the Boilermakers. Redd ran 28 times for 131 yards -- “a quiet 131,” he said afterward. Chaz Powell had a big kickoff return, Justin Brown a big punt return and Anthony Fera made three field goals.

The defense, meanwhile, hung on for dear life, allowing 344 yards but also coming up with three interceptions, a season high. Two were by outside linebacker Nate Stupar.

The Lions, in the persons of linebackers Glenn Carson and Khairi Fortt, also came up with a stop on a stop on a two-point conversion attempt by the Boilermakers with 8:08 left, after Ralph Bolden hurdled into the end zone from a yard out to cut the PSU lead to 20-18.

“We guessed right on that one,” Bradley said.

The Lions disguised their zone defense, taking away all of quarterback Caleb Terbush's available targets. He then rolled right and tried to turn upfield, but Carson grabbed him by the ankles from behind, and Fortt rushed up to finish off the play from behind.

Stupar -- who had set up a field goal late in the first half by picking off an ill-advised throw by Purdue's other QB, Robert Marve -- added his second pick, this one of TerBush, with 1:59 left.

Not an easy day, by any means. But a typical one, where this group is concerned.

It didn't begin well. Defensive tackle Devon Still said it was “pretty dead” in the locker room before the game, to the point that he and guard Johnnie Troutman tried to get everybody fired up.

“We came out sluggish anyway,” he said. “We didn't have that edge. We didn't have that fire we usually have. It took us three quarters to get that fire, because we really didn't turn it on until the fourth quarter. We can't do that when we're trying to win championships. We have to come out there, first play of the game, and set the tone.”

Especially now, with the season-ending gauntlet about to begin. The Lions visit Northwestern next week, then host Illinois. November brings a home game against Nebraska and road tests at Ohio State and Wisconsin.

“Every week will be a different challenge, from here on out,” Bradley said. “We'll see different packages the whole rest of the way.”

And hope for similar results.

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