Defense Looks to Force the Action

Connor, Lee and company hope to improve on Penn State's minus-3 turnover margin in the final five games of the regular season. With some questions about the quarterback position, this is the perfect time for the defense to start contributing to the scoring.

Following a game in which the team's two starting quarterbacks went down, the Penn State defense knows it has to start forcing the action.

Those QBs, Anthony Morelli and Daryll Clark, suffered mild concussions in the Nittany Lions' 17-10 loss to Michigan last Saturday. Both have been cleared to play against Illinois this week, but there is no definitive word on whether they will. With that in mind, the PSU defense is looking to help out the offense by generating turnovers.

“Our defense has faith in our quarterbacks and all our backup QBs,” linebacker Sean Lee said, “but when we're down we're looking to score and force turnovers and we haven't done that and I think that's one of the reasons we're losing.”

Lee has one interception this season and fellow linebacker Dan Connor has one as well. Senior co-captain Paul Posluszny has not recorded a pick since Michigan State in 2004. Safety Anthony Scirrotto leads the team with interceptions, and he only has two.

Overall, Penn State has seven picks. Last year's Big Ten championship team had 16 interceptions. The Lions are currently minus-three in turnover margin.

“We work on it a lot in practice, just trying to strip the ball, get interceptions,” Connor said. “We've played a lot of good teams, which makes it hard obviously. …Hopefully we can take a big step with that this week.”

Rather than make comparisons to last year's team, Lee preferred to look at last Monday night's NFL game. Chicago came back from a 20-0 halftime deficit with the help of two defensive scores for a 24-23 win.

Although PSU has played arguably the toughest schedule in the county, with losses to three top-five teams, the Nittany Lions have also faced Akron, Youngstown State and Northwestern, with Lee's lone pick coming against the Wildcats. The defense has not scored this season.

It comes as no surprise that PSU is losing the turnover battle. Penn State quarterbacks have thrown six interceptions and the Lions have fumbled the ball away seven times. By comparison, State only has 10 takeaways,

A defense has to force mistakes. But with four new starters in the secondary and a rebuilt defensive line, the Lions appear to be more worried about not getting caught out of position than making something happen.

“When you're young, you're looking to do your job, not make mistakes,” said Lee, himself a first-year starter. “When you're older, you know you're not going to make mistakes. You have confidence and you can go out and attack.”

The sophomore then cited his inability to jump a route last Saturday. He was a little late getting to the ball, and though he managed to knock it down, he had an open field in front of him and like would have scored had he made the interception.

And those were points that the Lions desperately needed.

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