PSU Defense Rocks the Boilers

Nittany Lions dominate again in comfortable win. Now they turn their attention to Big Ten co-leader Wisconsin, which figures to present a much more formidable offensive challenge at Beaver Stadium next Saturday.

Forget the decibel meters and turnstile clickers and all the other conventional measures of fan enthusiasm that have been used to gauge the atmosphere at Penn State's home games this season. Dan Connor has no need of such gadgetry. He knows Beaver Stadium is rocking when his helmet starts to vibrate.

“It legitimately shakes,” the sophomore linebacker said. “It's almost like a video game — back and forth. Last year in the Purdue game is when I first noticed it. We had them pinned down on the goal line and the crowd went nuts and your head was shaking from the noise. Or maybe I was shaking, I don't know. But teams have trouble checking off. They're trying to communicate and we're showing them different things and the crowd's yelling. Most of the time it's a timeout for them because they can't run a play.”

The homecoming crowd of 109,467 was plenty loud Saturday in Penn State's 33-15 victory over Purdue. And if Connor's helmet was rattling, it wasn't the only thing. The Boilermakers' offense looked a bit shaken as well.

Penn State stuffed Purdue, a team that hasn't enjoyed its customary success this season thanks in part to an unsettled quarterback situation. The Nittany Lions held the Boilers to a season-low 277 total yards, with starting quarterback Curtis Painter and his second-half replacement, deposed starter Brandon Kirsch, combining to complete just 17 of 38 passes for 162 yards. The only sustained drive the Boilers managed was a seven-play, 58-yarder that ended in a 4-yard touchdown run by Dorien Bryant. But Bryant's score wasn't until the fourth quarter, and Penn State answered with a field goal to remain comfortably ahead.

“I thought we played pretty well today,” linebacker Paul Posluszny said. “I thought our defensive line did a great job. Dan Connor played really well today, and we were able to control a good, strong offense. I think we held our own.”

Penn State went into the game concerned about its endurance. Purdue's spread offense often churns up big yardage against even quality defenses, and the Lions thought they might have to defend as many as 80 or 90 plays.

A week earlier, Penn State used redshirt freshman A.Q. Shipley, a converted offensive lineman, on the defensive line against Illinois. The idea was to build a deeper rotation heading into the season's homestretch.

“We moved Shipley to tackle and moved Jimmy Shaw to end because we were concerned about depth there,” Joe Paterno said. “Purdue has run as many as 98 plays in a game. So we intended to play some of those guys, because we didn't want the other guys getting tired.”

For one week, at least, the Lions' fears proved unwarranted. The Boilermakers only ran 64 plays, largely because Penn State's offense enjoyed a 15-minute advantage in possession time. The fatigue factor that some were concerned about heading into the game didn't come into play. Instead, it was Penn State that outscored Purdue, 10-8, in the fourth quarter.

“It doesn't feel like we were on the field long at all,” Posluszny said. “Our offense just really controlled the game, and we were able to get some three-and-outs. Aside from that really long drive that Purdue had [in the fourth quarter], we weren't on the field all that long.”

The Lions will face a different kind of challenge when 15th-ranked Wisconsin visits Beaver Stadium next Saturday. The Badgers, who are led by tailback Brian Calhoun, went into this weekend's action ranked seventh in the country in scoring offense. They did nothing to hurt their standing by pounding Illinois, 41-24, a victory that raised their Big Ten-best scoring average to 39.7 points a game.

Next week's game, Barry Alvarez's final visit to Beaver Stadium as the Badgers' coach, will, in all likelihood, eliminate the loser from Big Ten title contention. The Nittany Lions, who fell, 16-3, at Camp Randall Stadium last year after allowing fullback Matt Bernstein to rush for 123 yards, say they're prepared for the rematch.

“If they're looking for a physical game, it's gonna be a real physical game,” defensive end Tamba Hali said. “We can bring the wood as well as they bring the wood.”

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