Better or worse? Penn State Defense Sneak Peek in 2021
Now let’s hope Penn State burned the tapes from the first 5 weeks of the 2020 season. The whole squad was not up to it, but especially a defense that was much appreciated early in the season.
Having a smooth offseason certainly helps, as does the fact that the country’s top defenseman doesn’t retire until the season. Even so, the number of big plays and mediocre tackles was unacceptable as Penn State allowed at least 30 points in their first 5 games.
With 7 returning starters, an aspiring linebacker star and a solid secondary, Brent Pry has the frame of a defense that can compete for a Big Ten title, but he will need to be ready for Week 1 in Wisconsin as he there is no easing in the schedule.
With the reset button pressed and James Franklin’s agenda back on track, what can we expect from Penn State’s defense in 2021? Let’s find out…
Putting pressure on the QB: Worse
Penn State’s pass rush will likely be worse in 2021, but only by a hair’s breadth. Substituting a first and seventh round draft pick at the ends is a tough request, but despite all the hype and talent surrounding Jayson Oweh, he lacked actual production in terms of sacks. As much as Penn State has produced NFL caliber defenses in recent years, their play hasn’t necessarily resulted in high sack production.
With Oweh and Shaka Toney gone (O and 5 sacks, respectively in 2020), the Lions will call on Adisa Isaac on one end and Nick Tarburton or Temple transfer Arnold Ebiketie on the other. Isaac is a highly regarded 4-star rookie in the Class of 2019, who has played in 20 games, but he’s stuck behind a group of deep positions that also included Yetur Gross-Matos in Isaac’s freshman, so he was never given never claimed to be No.1, but 2021 could be a breakout-type season for him.
Ebiketie is probably Penn State’s biggest transfer portal attraction. The former Owl was the second All-AAC team last year after recording 42 tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss, 4 sacks and 3 forced fumbles with Temple. He’s a welcome addition to John Scott Jr.’s line and should have an immediate impact.
Unfortunately for the Lions, they lost their top 3 sack producers last season, set to replace Toney, and defensive tackles Antonio Shelton and Shane Simmons, the latter two who left Happy Valley in the transfer gate.
Considering this is a Penn State defense, linebackers always have a decent punch, and former 5-star rookie Brandon Smith is no exception, looking to be the next face of the U linebacker all. building on his 2 sacks of 2020. Jesse Luketa will move from linebacker to defensive end at times this season to bolster his resume as a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL, so his versatility will also benefit the rush. assists, but in total there is just too much raw talent to assume the Lions can keep pace with last year’s unit.
Race Defense: Better
Fini is undoubtedly the the heart and soul of the defense with the transfer of defensive tackle Antonio Shelton to Florida, but 323-pound senior PJ Mustipher can metaphorically and physically fill the empty hole. After a 2020 season in which he recorded 35 tackles and was an honorable mention in the All-Big Ten, Mustipher led all Penn State linemen in tackles last year and should build on that in 2021.
He will probably be accompanied by senior Fred Hansard or sophomore Hakeem Beamon. Duke Derrick Tangelo’s transfer also adds the necessary depth and will factor into the rotation.
Last year’s defensive line, like much of the defense in its entirety in the first few weeks, was often bullied and allowed far too many broken tackles on first contact. Penn State allowed 165.2 rushing yards per game in Weeks 2-6, including 208 against Ohio State, and it also gave up 4 rushing touchdowns to the Hawkeyes. It was uncharted territory for a defense which is usually a calling card of the program.
Linebackers should provide a more than solid group of tackles if the running back reaches second tier. Ellis Brooks and Luketa were Penn State’s two main tacklers as of 2020, and Brandon Smith could become the conference’s top linebacker. Curtis Jacobs, whose athleticism has been praised by coaches for his sensational chasing speed, is set to debut on “Sam” this season.
Pass Defense: Better
Look, last year’s high school blew up a ton of cover missions early on and gave up on way too many explosive games, and almost the same unit is back. But the same unit is back (with the exception of Lamont Wade), and that’s a good thing.
Super seniors Tariq Castro-Fields and Jaquan Brisker will anchor high school in veteran talent and leadership. Brisker has good reason to be the B1G’s best defenseman, while Castro-Fields will do everything in their power to improve his NFL Draft resume at the corner.
No freshman has received more hype this spring than cornerback Kalen King, who will see plenty of time this year, but he will be behind sophomore Joey Porter Jr. who has had an outstanding season l last year for the Lions, defending four assists and registering 33 tackles.
There is certainly a drop in the wake of Wade’s departure to the NFL, as Penn State doesn’t have an immediate response to play their safe position. However, Jonathan Sutherland and Ji’Ayir Brown will have a convincing battle this offseason for the position, and Keaton Ellis, who has had some highlights at the corner post, will also be working there this season as Johnny Dixon could be transferred to South Carolina. . Ellis’ place at the cornerback post.
Considering as bad as the high school at times played last season, the Penn State pass defense has consistently ranked 2nd in the Big Ten, allowing less than 200 yards per game. The distance allowed stat may not improve much, as infractions will not be missing as much this season, but overall performance, from an eyeball perspective, is expected to improve in 2021.
Special teams: Better
Kick-off specialist Jordan Stout will in all likelihood retain his starting position as the only other competition will come from Barney Amor following the transfer of Levi Forrest this offseason. Stout definitely struggled in 2020, his first punt season, as he finished 13th in the Big Ten among qualifying punters, averaging just 41.55 yards per punt.
Penn State won’t get any real punting aid until 2022, when Sander Sahaydak, the country’s top punting prospect, joins the program. But for all intents and purposes, Penn State shouldn’t find itself in nearly as many punting situations this season.
Not only should the players be making progress on the pitch this season, but you know who is probably the best defenseman in all of college football? Have 110,000 screaming fans at Beaver Stadium.
Penn State has not received any gift from the lineup gods in terms of easing the season with a trip to Camp Randall and home games against a Ball State team who are essentially returning their full roster and Auburn to start the season. year, but the Lions defense looks a lot more like what fans had grown used to over the decades as the season ended in 2020.
2021 should be a year of redemption for the whole team and Brent Pry who found himself the center of much fan criticism last year. The defense should do its part, the only question is the Penn State quarterback?