Defense Not Satisfied

In a game Penn State coach Joe Paterno called "closer than the score would indicate," the Nittany Lion defense was the high mark for the fans in the team's 23-13 win over South Florida at Beaver Stadium Saturday. Yet while on paper the defense did well, the players felt otherwise.

Game Stats

“We're pleased to come away with the win, but were not really satisfied with how we played,” explained senior safety Chris Harrell. “We want to be more consistent.”

Harrell, who missed all of the 2004 season with a neck injury, came up with an interception in the late stages of the first quarter which help set up Penn State's second touchdown. Known as the team’s hardest hitter, Harrell laid a couple licks on the South Florida receivers while adding even more toughness to an already experienced secondary.

After finishing 2004 among the national leaders in many departments, the Nittany Lion defense wants to pick up right where it left off. The only squad not to give up 21 points in any game last season and with nine starters back, this unit was touted as one of the best in the country coming into 2005. It got started early Saturday, as Alan Zemaitis recovered a fumble with just over six minutes left in the first quarter and returned it 16 yards for a touchdown.

“We’re trying to get as many turnovers as we can, trying to get as many points as we can on defense, and we’re trying to get as many three and outs as we can,” said Zemaitis, who is on the preseason watch list for the Thorpe Award. “We don't want them to get 21 points; we want them to get zero points.”

The South Florida offense wouldn't give up, however, as the Bulls kept the Penn State defense on the field for the majority of the second quarter, including an 18-play drive that ended with a missed field goal by Mike Benzer.

With the Nittany Lions up by two scores late, the Bulls' offense rolled down the field and cut the Penn State lead to 10. Hoping to get within one score, USF elected to go for two. Quarterback Pat Julmiste fired a fastball to the goal line, but it fell incomplete thanks to the smothering Penn State secondary.

With sophomore linebacker Dan Connor on the sideline in street clothes due to a disciplinary suspension, redshirt freshman Tyrell Sales filled in admirably.

“I thought he did a great job in there for his first time seeing action on the collegiate level,” said senior defensive end Tamba Hali.

One place the defense can certainly improve is in getting pressure on the quarterback. The defensive line played well overall Saturday, but is just missed on several opportunities to make game-changing plays.

“Overall I don't think we played to our potential,” said Hali.

Part of the credit must be given to USF's Julmiste, who came off the bench and proved effective, shaking several tackles to get out of the pocket only to have his receivers drop many catchable balls.

This biggest negative out of the game for the Penn State defense was the loss of starting tackle Jim Shaw, who injured his right leg in the second quarter. “I haven't had a chance to talk to the doc yet, but I know he has some kind of knee problem,” Paterno. “That would be a big loss.”

Hali said he heard Shaw would miss two games. Scott Paxson stepped in and played well in Shaw's absence, helping clog the middle and limit the Bulls to 97 rushing yards and 13 points.

While most defenses would love such numbers, especially on a day when the team's offense struggled, it wasn't quite good enough for the Nittany Lions.

“We'd rather get a donut,” Zemaitis said.


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