CB Morris Critical of PSU Secondary

The senior says the Nittany Lion defensive backs must improve in third-down situations if they want to prove skeptics wrong and help the team break into the win column.

The old football cliché suggests you win as a team and lose as a team. But Penn State senior cornerback Stephon Morris will have none of that.

With the Nittany Lions sitting at 0-2 heading into Saturday's home game with Navy, Morris is pointing the finger of blame at one specific area of the team -- the secondary.

Opening opponents Ohio and Virginia converted a combined 61 percent of their third-down chances against Penn State. In a 17-16 come-from-ahead loss at UVA Saturday, the Lions allowed the Cavaliers to convert four of four third-downs on their winning drive.

All four conversions, including a third-and-16, came on pass plays.

“We just have to get off the field,” Morris said. “I don't want to say it's a whole defense problem. I'll take the blame. It's a secondary problem. … That's the DBs' problem. That's not the linebackers' or D-line's problem.”

Penn State graduated all four starting defensive backs from its 2011 team, so critics pointed to the secondary as an area of concern heading into 2012. This despite the fact that Morris, fellow corner Adrian Amos and safety Malcolm Willis all saw significant action last fall.

They took umbrage at the criticism and were anxious to put the skeptics in their place. But even they admit it has not worked out that way.

“So far, we've not proven any of the critics wrong,” Morris said. “We just have to do a better job of getting off the field on third down and finishing the game strong. … For some reason, in the fourth quarter we just collapse.”

“I don't think we've done enough,” Amos added. “I think we can make a lot more plays. We just have to start capitalizing and playing better.”

Part of the issue has been a lack of the cohesiveness that is a hallmark of all strong secondaries. Yes, Morris, Amos and Willis played a lot last season, but rarely with each other. And the other DBs seeing time -- safeties Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Jacob Fagnano, and true freshman corner Da'Quan Davis -- had little or no experience entering the season.

“We're coming together, we're getting better every week,” Amos said. “We have new starters and new players in there, so it's going to take time. But we're getting better and better.”

Because of a lack of depth, there do not appear to be many moves the staff can make to shore things up in the secondary. About the only one would be shifting the physical Amos from boundary corner to safety, where he could presumably help shut down the seam routes that have hurt the Lions.

As of Tuesday, Amos said he'd been given no indication that a move to safety was imminent. But when Morris talked to reporters Wednesday, he hinted something might be in the works.

“I think in coming weeks, you're going to see Adrian at corner and safety,” Morris said. “It depends on the team we play, the personnel they have, how good the tight end and slot receiver are. … A little has to do with the progression Da'Quan Davis makes.”

Morris could see it playing out as follows: Amos moves to safety, to play alongside Willis; Morris moves from field corner to Amos' boundary corner spot; Davis takes over at field corner.

Whether the staff would risk making such a move with Navy and its unique triple option attack sailing into Beaver Stadium Saturday remains to be seen.

Whatever personnel group is out there, however, Morris said the Lions will sink quickly if they don't batten down the hatches on third down.

“That's definitely a huge problem,” he said. “We've got to get off the field.”

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