Secondary Looks to Bounce Back

Stephon Morris

After a flat effort against Alabama, the Penn State defense intends to show more intensity vs. Kent State.

It was learned Tuesday morning that injury had been added to insult during Penn State's 24-3 loss to Alabama Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, starting cornerback Stephon Morris revealing during a conference call with reporters that he hurt his foot in the second quarter of that game.

Morris, a sophomore from Greenbelt, Md., wasn't sure about the extent of the problem. He missed practice Monday -- nickelback Derrick Thomas, who had also been his teammate at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, took his place with the first-string defense -- but said he was back for Tuesday's session, as the Nittany Lions prepared for Saturday's home game against Kent State.

Overall Morris pronounced himself “day to day.”

“I can put pressure on it now,” he said.

Morris said he changed shoes at halftime Saturday, hoping that would alleviate the problem, to no avail.

“I couldn't really plant in the second half,” he said.

But he said he didn't tell anyone.

“I didn't want to,” he said. “I didn't want to leave the game.”

Morris called the Nittany Lions' tackling “ridiculous” against the Crimson Tide, which piled up 409 yards total offense -- 229 through the air and 180 on the ground. Running back Trent Richardson, filling in for injured Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, rushed for 144 of those, and quarterback Greg McElroy went 16-for-24 with a pair of touchdown passes. He was not intercepted, and indeed, PSU has yet to force a turnover in two games this season.

“That's not Penn State defense,” Morris said. “That's not the Penn State way.”

Strong safety Nick Sukay, addressing reporters in a conference call of his own, echoed that.

“I knew in the game we didn't tackle well,” he said. “It's kind of surprising to see it on film, and see how bad it actually was.”

Just as troubling is the fact that opposing quarterbacks have completed 75.5 percent of their passes against the Lions so far this season (37-for-49), something Morris didn't know until apprised of it by a reporter.

“Terrible,” Morris said.

Morris was raised in a single-parent home by his dad, Roman, with whom he speaks after every practice, every game. The elder Morris, who played small-college football and spent some time in Tampa Bay's camp years ago, has told his son since the Alabama game to keep his chin up, to keep plugging. (He also said that a missed tackle his son had against the Tide was “a no-no,” according to Stephon.)

Joe Paterno was just as direct in his dealings with the team as a whole.

“I would say he was more disappointed than usual,” Sukay said. “We were playing the No. 1 team in the country, in a game we were looking forward to the whole offseason. We didn't come to play like we should have. It's obviously a disappointing situation.”

And yes, Sukay did say that the Lions didn't come to play, a point on which he expanded during his call.

“We know we didn't come out with the fire, passion and aggression we needed to,” he said. “We can't come out flat like that again and expect to win.”

Flat? Against Alabama?

“I felt ready to play,” Sukay said.

So too did his teammates, he said. But, he said again, “We didn't come out with the aggression we needed, to match the aggression they had. We were just outplayed from the beginning.”

“We were prepared,” Morris said. “We had a great week of practice. Everything was going real smooth. When we got there, I don't know what happened. We let everyone down, including ourselves.”

Since the loss, Paterno has “basically set down the law,” according to Morris.

“Of course spirit is low,” Morris said. “We know we've got 10 more games we can improve on, starting with Kent State this week.”

Asked for his ideas on how to improve the defense's performance, Sukay was succinct.

“Practice with more intensity,” he said. “How you practice is how you play. We have to pick it up in practice -- concentrate on the little details and not let something like tackling hold us back.”

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