Ready to be Tested

Penn State players and coaches welcome the challenge of facing the nation's No. 1 defense when they square off with USC in the Rose Bowl.

LOS ANGELES -- When Penn State plays USC in the Rose Bowl Jan. 1, the Nittany Lions will encounter what is considered to be the nation's best defense.

From a statistical standpoint, nobody is even close to the Trojans, who rank No. 1 in the NCAA in scoring defense (7.8 ppg.), pass efficiency defense (206.1) and pass defense (122.8 ypg.).

So how do the Nittany Lions plan to attack such a stingy group?

“It's all about execution,” quarterback Daryll Clark said at the Los Angeles Downtown Marriott Monday. “No trick plays or anything like that. It's going to be a test for us. It's a real tough defense. But we're up for the challenge.”

Penn State veteran defensive coordinator Galen Hall said the USC defense is “the most talented I've seen” because it has speed at every position, from nose guard to cornerback. “And speed is the name of the game, whether it is a good college team or a good NFL team.”

Since there is not a single weak area to exploit, Hall and the rest of the staff are putting a premium on avoiding mistakes.

“You have a lot of guys who fly to the ball, a bunch of talented players who get after it each and every time they are out there,” Clark said. “It's going to be about execution and limiting turnovers.”

With more than a month to prepare for the bowl, surely the Nittany Lions will add a few new wrinkles to their offense. But they aren't letting on what those wrinkles might be.

“We don't want to let the cat out of the bag,” receiver Deon Butler said with a smile. “We have some ideas we think are going to work. But the fundamentals will [dictate] how successful we are. No turnovers. No penalties. Just be smart.

“Don't go out in awe of SC,” he added. “If we just keep our heads straight and execute our plays, we'll be fine.”

If all of the talk about how special the USC defense is has bothered the Nittany Lions, they have not let on. If anything, they have helped add to the hype.

“Guys have been amped up since we've been out here,” Butler said. “Everyone is excited about the challenge ahead.”

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