Lion Defense Steals the Show

Penn State clamps down on the Syracuse offense and its much talked-about quarterback.

Up until kickoff Saturday, all the talk was about Syracuse's ex-Duke point guard turned quarterback Greg Paulus, who the week before played his first down of football in five years.

But once the action started in Beaver Stadium, the Orange were held to numbers that looked like they were put up by a rusty quarterback.

For the second weekend in a row, the Penn State defense held its opponent to a garbage-time touchdown and allowed a minuscule amount of total offense. With a 28-7 win on a dreary afternoon, No. 5 Penn State improved to 2-0.

“We played really well in the first half,” Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. “We came out the second half and got into it pretty good. There's work to do. They're a pretty tough team to defend.”

The Orange (0-2) used a three-man rotation at quarterback. Paulus started and saw most of the playing time, but in the middle of a series he would come off the field and Ryan Nassib would replace him. Additionally, running back Antwon Bailey took snaps at quarterback as part of the Orange's “Stallion Package” -- which is first-year head coach Doug Marrone's fancy term for Wildcat.

Despite the mobility of the three Syracuse quarterbacks, the Nittany Lions held the Orange to 65 yards rushing.

They did it despite linebacker Navorro Bowman being out of the lineup with a slight groin strain he suffered against Akron in the season opener.

“He says he's feeling better,” Penn State head coach Joe Paterno said. “I'm not sure if he'll be good enough for this week coming up [against Temple], but he'll be close.”

Nate Stupar started in Bowman's place but struggled at times. Eventually, he was splitting time with Bani Gbaydu.

No matter who was starting at outside linebacker, the Penn State defense suffocated the Orange's offense. Except for one series. What appears on the stat sheet as the biggest stop of the game for the defense wasn't really caused by the defense at all.

After Penn State took a 21-0 lead in the third quarter, Syracuse returned the kickoff to its 41-yard line and then drove the ball inside the Lions' 10-yard line.

But on third down, Paulus scrambled out of the pocket and with a wide-open path to the end zone in front of him, it seemed as if he was about to give the Orange their first points of the day. Inexplicably, he ran to his left instead of going forward before Jack Crawford was able to stop Paulus.

The next play, with Syracuse deciding to go for it on fourth down, contained the same ineptitude. Paulus found a wide-open Mike Williams in the end zone. Williams decided to not hang on to the ball, giving the Nittany Lions a break.

“When they get down in the red zone like that, all 11 players on our defense know it's time to buckle up,” PSU linebacker Josh Hull said. “That's the only goal we have in mind -- is to keep them out of the end zone, however that happens. If they stop themselves, that's fine with us.”

Paulus' stats were OK for a quarterback playing in his second game in five years. He completed 14 of 20 passes, including a late touchdown. He only accumulated 105 passing yards and threw two interceptions.

“He's been out for five years,” PSU linebacker Sean Lee said. “He's still making a lot of plays.”

Lee led the Lions with 13 total tackles. He also added a sack and three tackles for loss.

Any doubts that he hasn't completely recovered from his 2008-ending ACL injury seemed to have been answered in the first two weeks of the'09 season. Lee said he still has edges to smooth in his game.

“I thought I've done good things,” Lee said. “Still, I missed a tackle today -- it would have been a tackle for loss. I could get better with some recognition. But I feel good.”


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