Nittany Lions Looking to Rebound

Penn State's suddenly vulnerable defense aims to regain its form vs. a potent Purdue offense at Beaver Stadium Saturday.

Penn State's defense has given up 61 points the past two weeks. That figure has some harrowing implications with Purdue set to visit Beaver Stadium on Saturday. The Boilermakers field the Big Ten's highest scoring offense with an average of just under 36 points a game and are led by the second-ranked passer in the conference, senior quarterback Curtis Painter.

But Nittany Lion defensive players sound more determined than panicked as the team tries to bounce back from its 37-17 loss to top-ranked Ohio State last Saturday.

“Games like last week's really give me the drive to get better,” junior linebacker Sean Lee said. “Games where the other team was better than you and beat you up - they really fuel me in the off-season. I think they fuel a lot of our players.”

Penn State's players appear to have cause for concern this week. Purdue's trigger-happy spread offense has been giving opponents fits. Dorien Bryant leads the Big Ten in receptions with 64 catches for 735 yards and eight touchdowns. Greg Orton has 44 catches for 432 yards.

The three-step drops and quick passes that Painter uses to spread opposing defenses thin figure to pose big challenges.

“Our secondary and our linebackers are going to have to tackle well,” Lee said. “They use a lot of short passes. We can't miss tackles and let them turn 4-yard passes into 10-yard passes. At the same time, we're going to have to stop the run. If they can run and pass, we're going to be in trouble.”

The Lions would like to apply pressure to Painter, but that's easier said than done. Purdue has attempted 402 passes this season, a number rivaled only by Northwestern's 391. Yet it has given up only 12 sacks. Adept at delivering short, accurate passes, Painter has emerged as a worthy successor to Drew Brees and Kyle Orton. His touchdown-interception ratio is a dazzling 24-6.

If there's a knock on the Boilers, it's that their numbers have been inflated by a weak schedule. They amassed 182 points in nonconference victories over Toledo, Eastern Illinois, Central Michigan and Notre Dame. And their conference victories to date have come at the expense of stragglers Minnesota, Iowa and Northwestern. When they've gone up against Big Ten powerhouses, they've struggled. In losses to Ohio State and Michigan, the Boilers were outscored by a combined margin of 71-28.

Of course, Penn State didn't have much luck against the Buckeyes and Wolverines either. But players insist they aren't dwelling on the defeats.

“Even though we lost, there's something positive we can take out of it,” defensive end Maurice Evans said. “It made us realize that we're not there yet. [The Buckeyes] were a good team, and they let us know what we have to improve on, what we have to do for the next game.”

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