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Penn State Football: The State of the Defense? Evolving

by on September 18, 2012 9:10 AM

Penn State’s defense spent the first three weeks preparing for three completely different offenses and finished with a mixed bag of results.

By and large, Ohio’s quick-strike spread attack was a nightmare. Virginia’s pro-style, multi-back, multi-tight end sets probably serve as the most accurate indicator of how good the defense is through three weeks. Navy’s run-based triple option didn’t have the size upfront to be effective.

Temple walks into Beaver Stadium on Saturday with no proven passing game. The Owls have attempted 29 passes in two weeks, which includes Championship Subdivision Villanova, and average about 120 yards a game. Their game is by ground — an area Penn State has bottled up in recent weeks — and that bodes well for a defense which needs time more than anything.

What is the state of the defense? Evolving. It’s still a young defense asking a lot of guys to play a number of snaps they are not accustomed to playing. Mistakes were made. Plays were missed. Third down had been dismal. But there’s also been eight takeaways the last two weeks. The secondary, still with plenty to prove in pass coverage, is playing physical and contributing to that high turnover margin. Depth is strong in some areas — linebacker and defensive line, surprise, surprise.

“People say we have this experienced defense,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “We have four starters coming back off the team that finished the season last year with an entirely new secondary, so we had a lot of inexperience. There is no excuse but that is a fact and there is only one way to get experience and that is to play.

“And when you gain experience, you are going to make mistakes. And we have but we have not wallowed in self-pity, we have fought through them, and that is what I focus on, how do we respond to something like that? We have gotten better but certainly not arrived by any stretch of the imagination.”

Added Roof: “When you install a new system, you go through some growing pains. We’ve been through some, and we’re probably not done going through them yet.”

Mike and Mike

Penn State’s Mike Mauti, coming off ACL surgery, is off to a hot start, leading the team with 33 tackles. He’s also recorded two tackles for loss, including a sack, and forced and recovered one fumble each.

“He’s a special guy,” Roof said. “His leadership ability, it’s one thing to say it, but he’s been backing it up with his performance.”

Mike Hull, another player without much experience but in his third year with the program, is on track to take over for Mauti at one of the outside positions next season. He recovered a fumble against Navy and returned it 74 yards for Penn State’s first defensive touchdown of the season.

“He’s been in a lot of different roles, but he’s performed well. We need that,” Roof said. “Guys can’t play every play every week and play special teams too. It’s too much.”

Amos cemented at corner?

So far, prognostications of seeing Adrian Amos line up all over the defensive field have not come to fruition. During training camp, coach Bill O'Brien said to expect Amos to line up at cornerback, safety, maybe even as a spy linebacker. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen. It’s been three games, but Amos has been a cornerback each week.

Is a move to safety still on the table?

“We’re gonna do whatever we have to do to put our best group out there,” Roof said. “If that means he’s at safety some, you know, we’ll see.”

And that best group, right now, is Amos, Obeng-Agyapong, Stephon Morris, Malcolm Willis and Jake Fagnano, Roof said. It seems until Da’Quan Davis makes a considerable jump or unless injuries hit, Amos, listed at cornerback heading into Saturday, will remain there.

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Nate Mink covers Penn State football and news for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @MinkNate.
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