Penn State defense ready for a rebound
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Linebacker Mike Hull says Penn State’s defensive players not only have to get on the same page, they have to turn it as well.
“I don’t think we need to simplify anything, we just need to get better as a defense,” Hull said about last week’s 63-14 loss at Ohio State. “We have to clean up some of the things we’re doing because a lot of the guys aren’t on the same page like you saw.”
The Nittany Lions (4-3) have found that the best way to forget one game is to play another. With a victory over Illinois (3-4) on Saturday, they would be 6-1 after losses through what will be Bill O’Brien’s 20th game as coach.
“We’re very excited to get back out there,” Hull said. “Once you have a loss like that, you want to get that bad taste out of your mouth. We want to prove ourselves again just like we did against Michigan after the Indiana game.
“I think everyone’s responding really well.”
Penn State is just 1-2 in Big Ten play, but the Illini (3-4, 0-3) may be the perfect elixir.
“Practice Monday and (Tuesday) was real energetic and we were smacking people out there,” Hull said. “We’re ready to play another game on Saturday and get that taste of losing out of our mouth.”
Either way, Illinois will present Penn State with another up-tempo offense behind quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. The Illini senior has thrown for 1,649 yards and 12 touchdown passes, nine during first-half action. So, Illinois will look for a fast start in Happy Valley.
“He’s another mobile quarterback and he’s a good athlete,” Hull said. “He can make things happen. They run a lot of different formations. They like to spread you out. You see a lot more unconventional sets this year.
“They try to do more trick plays and that nature.”
Both defenses are similarly porous in Big Ten play, too, so there may be points aplenty. Penn State has allowed an average of 49 points and 520 yards in each of three conference games, while Illinois has yielded nearly 46 points and 492 yards.
“It tough during games sometimes,” Hull said. “The other team’s throwing stuff at you that you haven’t seen before. Teams are going at a faster pace nowadays. Sometimes when there are a lot of different checks to make, some guys are doing some things and other guys are doing other things and you have to play as 11 guys in a unit.
“When that doesn’t happen, there will be breakdowns. Big plays are going to happen.”
The Lions’ challenge is to forge ahead. It was that bad in Columbus, and another game — any game — will help to erase that.
“Coming off the losses to Indiana and UCF, we’ve done the same thing and we’re focused on who we’re playing,” center Ty Howle said. “It’s all full speed ahead for Illinois this week and that’s a great attribute.”
Penn State guard Miles Dieffenbach likes to think of it as a five-game season from here on in.
“We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs from that Michigan game to the Ohio State game,” he said. “You know you have to get up Sunday morning and get ready for the next game and get back to work. You can’t forget but you can’t dwell on it.
“The game’s over and there’s nothing you can do about it. We’re not going to let that affect our outlook on the rest of the season.”