PSU linebackers are 'bright' spot

Oddly enough, the team with the dullest uniforms in college football also has the brightest defenders. That would be the Penn State Nittany Lions, Tennessee's opponent in the upcoming Outback Bowl.

The team with the generic outfits may rank low in eye appeal but it ranks right at the top in IQ. Just ask Vol quarterback Erik Ainge.

"They're not as athletic, positions one through eleven, as some teams we've faced this year in the SEC," he said recently. "But one thing you notice when you watch them on tape: You can pause just about any play halfway through, and they're in the right position every single time.

"They don't make mistakes coverage-wise. They keep everything in front and they make you execute. They don't give up many deep balls. They just say, ‘You're not going to be able to complete eight balls in one drive to score a touchdown.' A lot of teams haven't been able to do it. That's why they only give up 279 yards a game."

Vol guard David Ligon, a two-time Academic All-SEC pick, understands better than most the vital role intelligence can play on the gridiron. And he agrees that Penn State's defensive players – particularly its linebackers – appear to be very, very smart.

"Absolutely," he said. "They flow hard. As soon as the ball's snapped they know where the ball's going. It's really hard to find on film a play where they've been tricked.

"They're always in position, and you'd be amazed by the effort they put out. They play the game like it should be played."

While the Nittany Lions may lack sharp uniforms, they have an abundance of sharp minds. This savvy enables them to rank 10th nationally in rushing defense (87.8 yards per game), 11th in pass efficiency defense (104.4 rating), 11th in scoring defense (14.8 points per game) and 16th in total defense (279 yards per game).

So, what can the Vol offense expect from Penn State's cagey defense?

"We've seen everything this year, so there's nothing they could do we haven't seen before," Ainge said. "They play off (the receivers) a little. They're not as aggressive as some teams but that could change.

"They have over a month to get ready for us, so they could come out playing cover zero and blitzing every play. You have to prepare for everything."

Everything ... except colorful uniforms.


Inside Tennessee Top Stories