Planning for success: Penn State

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- DaQuan Jones has become accustomed to chasing down dual-threat quarterbacks in the Big Ten. There's been Braxton Miller and Taylor Martinez, Kain Colter and now Devin Gardner.

But the 318-pound defensive tackle has never started against a 3,000-yard pocket-passer in the BCS. Not until this coming Saturday against Central Florida.

Blake Bortles has thrown 217 passes without an interception. He tossed for 3,059 yards and 25 touchdowns last season. He's the best Central Florida signal-caller since Daunte Culpepper. Put simply, he's good. Really good. And Jones had to think when asked whether he was the best pocket passer his defense would face this year.

"I'm not really sure," Jones said. "I know he's a heck of a quarterback and he looks solid. … They're a very good offense. It'll be a challenge."

Whether Bortles is at the very top of the list is irrelevant. The fact is Bortles is the toughest test yet for this Penn State defense and, as Jones said, he'll be a challenge. Look at the stats, look at the film, look at the scouting reports -- and there really shouldn't be a question of that.

Even Bill O'Brien didn't try to downplay the kind of competitor his defense was up against.

"One thing you have to understand about their offense is that they have a really good quarterback," the head coach said. "It's hard to totally stop a guy like that, but you've got to try to contain him. He's very, very good. He's a pro prospect, Blake Bortles."

This isn't a Syracuse team littered with question marks, and it's not a powder-puff Eastern Michigan squad. It's a team that lost three of four games by six points or less last season. (It lost to Ohio State by 15; PSU lost to the Buckeyes by 12.) And it's a team that boasts a quarterback who currently holds a QBR of 90.6 -- nearly a full four points more than Johnny Football.

Safety Malcolm Willis knows this will test a still-young secondary. First-year starters Jordan Lucas and Trevor Williams have played well so far at cornerback, but they haven't faced an above-average quarterback yet. The safeties remain experienced, but coming away with a turnover in the passing game is far from a sure thing.

"From our film study so far, we got to be ready for anything," Willis said. "We got to make sure we're on the top of our game come Saturday."

Willis said the team's hope rests on searching for tendencies on film -- so it can contain Bortles, stop the passing game and come away with a win. In UCF's four losses last season, there definitely seemed to be a trend. Outside of the loss to the Buckeyes, when Bortles tossed a season-high three picks, the winning squad tended to get pressure on the quarterback.

Those three winning opponents combined for 10 sacks and a dozen quarterback hurries. And, against two of those teams, Bortles completed less than half his passes -- the only time last season he didn't reach at least 57 percent.

Either Jones or Willis will likely need to have a big game for PSU to win. They're leaders on this defense and if PSU's planning on celebrating Sunday morning, it'll have to stop Bortles Saturday night.

Josh Moyer | email

Penn State/Big Ten reporter

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