Penn State’s red zone defense improved, specialty

Nittany Nation

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. (WTAJ) – Bending, not breaking has been the overall theme of Brent Pry’s defense this season. They rank no. 7 in the nation in turnover margin at +5, having forced six and the offense only losing the ball once.

Saturday against Auburn, Penn State held the Tigers out of the end zone on consecutive drives to end the game. A season ago when Penn State could not find those late stops, keeping teams out of the end zone has been their specialty.

The Nittany Lions have allowed just 49 points though just three games. Opponents have been in the red zone 11 times, Penn State has given up six scores, which was a real weakness for the Nittany Lions a year ago.

Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week Brandon Smith says those stops have simply come down to grit.

“It’s nothing but just heart and determination,” said Brandon Smith, a junior linebacker. “That’s all it is, really. It’s been instilled in the game for many, many years before us. That’s basically what we hold our hat to. There’s multiple times people would tell me like, ‘oh, I didn’t know y’all was going to make that stop.’ But, we knew we were going to make it.”

“We’ve been doing a good job of bend but don’t break on defense in general,” said James Franklin. “We seem to make critical plays at critical moments, very similar to what you’ve seen with Brisker. He’s made some big plays at critical times. I think the other thing is that peoples’ playbooks tend to shrink down there. We’re pretty good against the run, especially in obvious running situations. And then I think our guys are doing a really good job of playing the ball in the air.”

At 4.2 yards-per-play, Penn State ranks first in the Big Ten, and those numbers even came against two Top 25 teams in Auburn and Wisconsin.

The defense has played its best in the biggest moments.

The no. 6 Nittany Lions host Villanova on Saturday at noon.

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