Penn State Nittany Lions: planning for success

Planning for success: Penn State

October, 10, 2013
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Linebacker Glenn Carson wants redemption.

First he endured a loss to UCF where his defense gave up 507 yards. Then came Indiana, where the Hoosiers racked up 486 yards and 44 points. Penn State was favored in both games.

So Carson said earlier this week, from inside Beaver Stadium, that his teammates have been eagerly awaiting this matchup against Michigan. Nothing helps ease the sting of a loss quite like a victory against an undefeated team.

"We're hungry for a win," he said. "No one on our team likes the feeling after a loss. After the game, it's really tough for us to swallow."

Michigan is the first top-25 that Penn State has faced this season. The Wolverines have played about as inconsistently as the Nittany Lions, but they remain undefeated. They've made plays when they've had to; the same cannot be said of PSU.

Carson didn't believe those defensive struggles, those lack of big plays, could be traced to just one issue. But, to reverse his team's fortunes, he did emphasize another important aspect.

"I would just put it down to execution," he said. "Sometimes we're not just functioning as an entire whole. One person might miss an assignment here or there, and we're just not really going out and executing. We just need to play all 11 at once."

That's critical this week with Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner strolling into Happy Valley. A missed assignment in one place could lead to a touchdown in another. Gardner doesn't have the speed of a Denard Robinson, but Robinson didn't have the arm of Gardner.

Gardner is a true dual threat who -- when he's on top of his game -- is difficult to stop. He runs once for about every two times he passes, and he's sprinted for at least one touchdown in every game this season. And his QBR, in three out of five games, has hovered between 87.9 and 94.2.

"I think the thing you've got to try to do is really try to keep him in the pocket," coach Bill O'Brien said. "When he gets out of the pocket, he's very dangerous. Very dangerous."

Neither O'Brien nor Carson would offer details into just how PSU's preparing -- "I appreciate that question, but do you really think I'm going to tell you?" O'Brien said -- but Penn State's hoping the end result of this preparation winds up better than the UCF and Indiana games.

"Overall," safety Malcolm Willis said of the defense, "we feel like we can do better than we have."

Planning for success: Penn State

October, 3, 2013
Indiana tight end Ted Bolser is well aware of his team's streak against the Nittany Lions. He's been reminded constantly this week.

Since 1993, Penn State has played Indiana a total of 16 times. And, in those 16 contests, Penn State has come out on top 16 times.

"People keep saying it," Bolser said. "But we got different players; they got different players. Teams change throughout the years. It doesn't worry me or anything."

It's a streak the Nittany Lions don't seem as aware of -- but it's still one they obviously hope to keep intact. Offensive guard Miles Dieffenbach said he didn't know about the winning streak until somebody told him about it Monday.

"Yeah," Dieffenbach said. "We don't really talk about that at all."

And, over the next few seasons, one has to think this game will be Indiana's best chance at reversing that trend.

Penn State will have more scholarship players next season and even more the season after that. True freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg will gain further experience. The first-year starting cornerbacks will undoubtedly improve. And this team is bound to get better.

Indiana, on the other hand, hasn't won a conference title since 1967, two years before a man walked on the moon. The Hoosiers have swung between mediocrity and subpar performances for the last 20 years. And they've made just one bowl game since 1994. So it doesn't seem a stretch to project PSU as improving and Indiana as flat-lining.

But does Bolser also think this year will be the Hoosiers' best chance at winning for a while?

"Yeah, absolutely," he said, before quickly adding, "but I think that every year, no matter who we play."

Bolser, a redshirt senior, has watched the Nittany Lions beat the Hoosiers four times so far in his career. The closest contest came in 2011, in the midst of the Matt McGloin-Rob Bolden quarterback carousel, when Indiana lost 16-10. The three other contests were decided by double digits.

Saturday's matchup expects to be more high scoring and maybe even a bit closer. Penn State is favored by about a field goal, and the conference opener for both teams features a few uneven matchups.

Penn State's secondary hasn't been tested since a 34-31 loss to Central Florida -- and Indiana boasts the nation's eighth-best passing offense. On the flip side, Penn State's found a lot of success with its three-pronged running attack -- and the Hoosiers' run defense is allowing nearly 250 yards a game. (Only eight teams in all of college football are faring worse.)

"Every year is different," coach Bill O'Brien said, "so we'll see what happens this year. But we feel like we have focused players."

Planning for success: Penn State

September, 19, 2013
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Cornerback Jordan Lucas swears it's not as bad as it sounds.

Yes, UCF compiled 507 yards and 34 points in shocking Penn State last week. But that's last week. And Lucas said his team was looking forward to Saturday's game against Kent State and a shot at some redemption.

"We just need to make plays," the first-year starter said. "We need to tackle better, as everybody knows. And when we have a guy wrapped up, we need to bring him down. That's really it. We need to execute."

The Golden Flashes don't have the same firepower as UCF. And their best player, Dri Archer, who's been compared to NFL tailback Darren Sproles, is "unlikely" to play this weekend. That creates the perfect recipe for a confidence-boost with this Penn State defense.

Kent State tailback Trayion Durham has averaged just 3 yards a carry so far this season. The Flashes are just 1-2 -- with their lone win coming against FCS school Liberty. And that was still a 17-10 struggle.

"We're just going to play a little bit more aggressively and stick to our keys," Lucas said.

This might offer Penn State's defense a bit more closure, or more confidence, but it won't do much to answer any lingering questions. Central Florida boasted a high-powered attack, which should help PSU prepare for the Big Ten season -- seeing as their three October opponents are averaging at least 42 points per game.

But Kent State? With a defense that surrendered 41 points to Bowling Green and an offense that's ranked No. 108 in scoring, the Flashes aren't exactly the best measuring stick for the Nittany Lions.

PSU is nearly a three-touchdown favorite this weekend. Will the Lions be tested? Probably not. But it should be a good pick-me-up after a loss.

"We just got to continue to lift each other up," safety Ryan Keiser said. "We just have to continue to do what we do."

This is Penn State's final game before a bye and the start of the conference season. It's a chance for Deion Barnes to pick up his first sack and start answering some questions about his play, another game for the outside linebackers to gain experience and a shot for Lucas and Co. to improve the secondary.

It's a different kind of game than Central Florida. But it's important for PSU to win this one big so it can be more self-assured in preparing against Indiana. This team knows what it has to do; it's just a matter now of executing.

"We have to do better," Bill O'Brien said, "and will do better."