Nittany Lions Look to Shore Up D

Loss to UCF highlighted several areas where the Penn State defense must improve moving forward. LB Glenn Carson and head coach Bill O'Brien address the topic.

We know the names. Mauti. Zordich. Hill. McGloin.

We know the numbers. “42” on the side of every helmet. “2012” on the facing of the Beaver Stadium luxury boxes.

We know the legacy of last year's senior class at Penn State. How its members led their teammates through the sanctions and the season, the 0-2 start and the over-the-top finish against Wisconsin.

What we don't know is who fills their shoes.

The 2013 team hit its first bump in the road last Saturday, and it was miniature in comparison to last year's gullies -- a single on-field loss, to Central Florida, albeit one that raised questions and left lingering doubts.

“It could be a blessing in disguise,” middle linebacker Glenn Carson said Tuesday, hopefully.

Carson identified himself as a leader. Same for offensive linemen Ty Howle and John Urschel, defensive tackle DaQuan Jones and safety Malcolm Willis. Their job, Carson said, is to do the old lead-by-example thing, an idea endorsed wholeheartedly by coach Bill O'Brien.

“There's a few vocal guys (among the seniors),” O'Brien said, “but all they need to do is what they did (Monday) when they came out to practice, which is practice hard and try to improve every single day. That's the best way to lead.”

The turnaround is relatively, and necessarily, quick.

“I allow them maybe 12 hours of mourning period,” O'Brien said of his players. “Then they have to pick themselves back up because you have an opponent on the horizon that is a good opponent. “

That would be Kent State (1-2), which visits Beaver Stadium on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. The Golden Flashes beat Liberty in their opener, but have dropped their last two, to Bowling Green and LSU, by a combined score of 86-35.

As much as anything else, Penn State must get its own house in order, especially on the defensive side. The Lions have to shore up their tackling and their pass coverage.

And the larger issue is getting everyone pointed in the right direction once again.

“That loss,” Carson said, “was humbling to us. The feeling from that loss -- nobody wants to have that feeling again. … We really are much more focused right now. We want to get back on track and never have that feeling again.”

In a conference call Tuesday morning, Carson said much the same thing that O'Brien would say a little later in the day -- that the Lions' choice not to tackle to the ground in practice was not a factor in their shoddy tackling against UCF.

Both said that precious few schools hit in practice anymore. And even if they did, its questionable as to how much of a help it would be.

“I've been places where we hit every day and we couldn't tackle anybody,” O'Brien said.

Rather, it's a matter of fundamentals, as Carson said -- making sure as a defender you square up a ball carrier and have your legs underneath you. It's also a matter of getting everyone aligned properly.

There might be some personnel changes as well. On the latest depth chart, Mike Hull is listed as the starter at strong-side linebacker, while Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Nyeem Wartman are listed as co-starters on the weak side. Austin Johnson and Kyle Baublitz are also listed as sharing a defensive tackle spot.

Hull injured his right knee in the opener against Syracuse, and did not play in Week Two against Eastern Michigan. He returned last week, but looked slow and uncertain.

“Mike Hull wasn't 100 percent,” Carson said. “My hat goes off to him. He's a real tough guy, and he wanted to get back out there. This week is going to be a huge week, healing-wise, for him. This week he's going to be a lot more healthy and ready to go.”

The secondary, especially the two first-time starters at cornerback, Jordan Lucas and Trevor Williams, will have to pick it up after a rough game against UCF. And it would behoove defensive end Deion Barnes to get untracked; after collecting six sacks last year he has none through three games, and just five tackles.

“That's not reflective of how he's playing,” Carson said. “I'm sure he's hungry and looking to get those sacks this year.”

O'Brien likewise said Barnes is “an excellent player” and that he's playing “with great effort.”

“I believe people are running away from him,” he said. “I think that people are giving the tackles help in protection with him. I would, too. We've got to do things to move him around and help him out a little bit. We will and we have. But Deion to me is playing well. I'm glad he's on our team, I can tell you that.”

Carson was just glad to have a chance to review the film of the UCF game.

“I know that after a loss I'm much more motivated when I'm watching film,” he said. “I take things more critically. I really evaluate how I played, more so than after a win.”

He saw some misalignments. He saw himself failing to get a call in.

And now he sees an opportunity to right the ship. Everyone does.

As O'Brien said, “We don't overreact. We have a lot of confidence in our players, in our coaching ability. We know that there's improvement to make every single day. That's why we love coaching. That's why we can't wait to get back to practice on Mondays.

“We're not changing. All we're going to do is try to improve the things that we do and figure it out from there. That's just the way it goes. That's coaching and that's what we'll try to do.”

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