The Task at Hand

Scirrotto and the Nittany Lions are mindful not to look past Coastal Carolina in the opener. They need look no further than Michigan last season for evidence of what can happen when any opponent is taken too lightly.

Penn State has never played Coastal Carolina, its opponent in Saturday's season opener. But as they head into the seeming mismatch, the Nittany Lions are mindful of the past, specifically the first weekend of the 2007 season in which Michigan lost to Appalachian State of the Football Championship Division.

“Ever since I've been here we've approached out-of-conference games like we're playing for a national championship,” safety Anthony Scirrotto said. “Because you never know. What happened [to Michigan] is exactly what you don't want to happen.”

No kidding. The Wolverines never fully recovered from their 34-32 loss and a would-be national championship season all but unraveled on the day it began.

Oddsmakers see Penn State avoiding that fate handily on Saturday, but the secondary is bracing for a challenge regardless. The Lions are expecting Coastal Carolina to come at them with a spread offense and are wary of quarterback William Richardson, younger brother of former Nittany Lion quarterback Wally Richardson.

For Penn State to have any chance at a league or national title this season, the secondary will have to stay on top of its game. The Lions gave up 214.5 passing yards per game to rank third in the Big Ten and were fifth in pass-efficiency defense but Scirrotto wasn't satisfied. He said Penn State “didn't have a great year as a secondary” and expressed optimism that the pass defense would be better this fall.

“Much, much better,” he said.

The pieces appear to be in place for a better season, even with Justin King gone. Scirrotto leads an all-senior starting unit, with Mark Rubin at the other safety spot and Tony Davis and Lydell Sargeant at cornerback. Junior A.J. Wallace figures to push for a starting job at one corner spot now that his is rounding back into form following a preseason hamstring pull.

The Lions are working on forcing more turnovers after finishing with just 11 interceptions last year, the eighth-highest total in the conference.

Scirrotto hails the Lions' experience, noting that the team's veteran defensive backs should be able to adapt to anything - a useful quality as the spread offense proliferates throughout college football.

“I think everyone knows the system and can handle anything [the coaches] throw at us,” Scirrotto said. “We've pretty much all been through it. Anything they give us, we're going to accept it.”

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