Week four of Penn State's football season welcomes the Kent State Golden Flashes to Beaver Stadium (BIG 10 Network, 3:30 p.m. ET).
The Nittany Lions will certainly be looking to improve on the defensive side of the ball after Central Florida racked up 501 total yards of offense against them last week. The Penn State defense, which has a widely recognized reputation of being a top tier defense looked lost against UCF. The Lions couldn't generate any pressure on the Knights' quarterback Blake Bortles, their tackling was poor to say the least, and the secondary struggled to cover the UCF receivers.
After last week's game Penn State coach Bill O'Brien was hesitant to answer in depth about the defense's performance because he wanted to wait until he evaluated the game tape. At Tuesday's weekly press conference, O'Brien expressed his thoughts about the way the Nittany Lions "D" performed last Saturday.
"Defensively, it comes down to tackling. We've got to tackle better," said O'Brien. "We have to be in better football position and get aligned correctly. I thought we were aligned improperly sometimes. So those are things we can correct. We have to do better and will do better. We have a great coaching staff on that side of the ball, and really, good tough players. Coverage wise we have to stay in coverage, stay on top of our man. We can't let people get behind us."
Since Penn State's roster depth is such a concern because of the scholarship reduction that was put in place by the NCAA, they use a practice format called THUD. THUD is basically a technique used at practice where you hit eachother without tackling. It's a technique used to keep players from getting hurt at practice and it's something Penn State has been forced to adopt due to number and depth issues.
O'Brien and his staff have been coming under some scrutiny lately, especially after PSU's poor showing last week. The media heat pertains to the fact that using a THUD style in practice is the reason why the Penn State defense hasn't been tackling all that great this season. O'Brien was quick to defend the THUD style.
"One thing I want to address right off the bat, I know somebody is going to ask me this question, obviously I respect the question, it has nothing to do with Thud," said O'Brien. "120 teams in the country all basically practice with Thud. Very rare that teams go live anymore, especially if you look at pro football. You're allowed 17 live practices a year. That's trickled down to college. It's all about being in better position on the football field."
Penn State is a 20-point favorite over Kent State and if the defense can play to their ability than there's no reason why the Nittany Lions can't cover.
It all starts up front and personally Penn State has not been getting enough pressure on the quarterback this season, especially last week, as UCF didn't surrender a single sack to the PSU defense. Big things were expected from sophomore Deion Barnes this season and so far he has just five tackles and zero sacks. The Penn State defense in total only has five sacks in three games, which is not nearly enough for a BIG 10 defense. DaQuan Jones, who was a force in Penn State's first two games (18 tackles, 5 TFL) was held as bay last week for UCF. Simply put, if PSU doesn't get pressure on the quarterback their depth problems will shoe even more, meaning teams will wear them down.
Bortles showed last week if you give a good quarterback time against the Nittany Lions inexperienced defensive backs the PSU defense is going to struggle.
"I think you have to look at the film closely on that. I think Deion is playing with great effort. He's an excellent player." said O'Brien. "I believe people are running away from him. I think that people are giving the (offensive) tackles help in protection with him. I would, too. We've got to do things to move him around and help him out a little bit. We will and we have. But Deion to me is playing well. I'm glad he's on our team, I can tell you that."
The Penn State defense will have to pay attention to Kent State quarterback Colin Reardon. Reardon is 56 of 85 for 548 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Other than that the Kent State offense hasn't been impressive. They average just 303.7 yards of total offense per game.
The Penn State offense just needs to keep doing what they're doing. They were the bright spot in their loss to UCF last week, gaining 455 yards of total offense. So far this season The Nittany Lions are averaging 460.7 yards per game.
True Freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg has passed for 851 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions. Running backs Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton, and Akeel Lynch all have over 100 yards rushing on the season, with Zwinak leading the pack with five rushing touchdowns. Wideout Allen Robinson is now ranked fourth in the country in receiving yards per game and has a total of 405 yards receiving and three touchdowns.
Penn State will most likely have success later this afternoon as Kent State is giving up more than 450 yards per game.
As noted, Penn State is a 20-point favorite.
My pick is Penn State 41, Kent State 13.