Room For Improvement

Though happy with the Illinois win, Crawford thinks he and the Penn State defense can get even better as the season goes along.

You get the feeling Illinois is going to help many of its opponents feel good about themselves this season. So when Jack Crawford says that the members of Penn State's defensive line aren't getting carried away after shutting down Juice Williams and company last weekend, it sounds like a sensible reaction.

“We played a decent game as a unit,” the sophomore defensive end said Tuesday. “But we definitely saw there were some improvements that we can make and that we need to focus on this week.”

Penn State's defense did surrender 17 points to the Illini, more than in any game this season. But during the third quarter when the Nittany Lions took control, the defense gave up only 8 yards. Both of the Illini's touchdowns came in the final 10 minutes, by which time the Lions had built a comfortable lead and were substituting frequently.

Even with those late touchdowns factored in Penn State is having a pretty good year statistically. It ranks 11th nationally in run defense, allowing only 2.7 yards per carry and 86.4 yards per game. It leads the Big Ten in scoring defense (11.6 ppg) and ranks second against both the run and the pass (179.2 ypg). And despite starting two new defensive ends in Crawford and Eric Latimore, the Lions lead the conference in sacks with 15.

Crawford made a career-best five tackles at Illinois and has a team-leading 3.5 sacks heading into Saturday's matchup with Eastern Illinois. Latimore, a redshirt sophomore who has started four of five games, has 2.5 sacks. Together, the two first-year starters are off to an encouraging start. Said Joe Paterno, “I think both of those kids have a chance to be really outstanding defensive ends.”

Crawford was unhappy with the way the defense started off against Illinois, allowing Williams to complete a pass to Daniel Dufrene for 23 yards on third-and-7 on the Illini's first possession. Illinois ended up punting and managed only a field goal in the first half -- Penn State's defense has yet to surrender a first-half touchdown this season -- but Crawford was dissatisfied nonetheless.

“We could have come out stronger, ran to the ball more, played more explosively,” he said. “That's something we do in practice that we usually transfer over to the game. In the Illinois game, we didn't show that as much. So I feel like we can come out stronger in this [week's] game and play the way we usually play.”

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