While there is little doubt that the Nittany Lions are better on that side of the ball than the last time Addazio saw them -- in his guise as Florida's offensive coordinator, during the Gators' 37-24 victory over PSU in the most recent Outback Bowl -- they are not elite.
Though that is always the goal.
“I really feel we can be, like he said, one of the top defenses in the country,” junior defensive tackle Jordan Hill said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “We've just got to come out and prove it, each and every week.”
While the defenders played tough in last Saturday's 27-11 loss to Alabama (and while they were the victims of the offense's anemic play), the final numbers weren't all that pretty. The Crimson Tide gained 359 yards, 196 of those on 41 rushes. And the defense failed to force any turnovers, failed to come up with a big play -- a major topic of conversation afterward.
“We wanted to come in and have a couple of sacks, which we didn't do,” Hill said. “And then we wanted to stop the running game, which we pretty much did a pretty good job of controlling that, until a couple series.”
He acknowledged that it is “real hard” to watch the film of a loss, though there were some encouraging things about this one.
“We weren't backing down from them at all,” he said. “There's a couple mistakes, which happens every game. When you lose, there's always going to be mistakes, little things that you can fix. The overall mood was that we felt we came out and played tough.”
This week the Lions (1-1) are facing an Owls club that is, in the estimation of coach Joe Paterno “the best Temple team (he's) ever seen.” (Speaking of smoke-blowing.) Penn State owns a 36-3-1 record in the series, and has not lost to the Owls since 1941.
But last year the Lions had to come from behind in the second half for a 22-13 victory, a rally helped in no small part by the fact that Bernard Pierce, the Owls' star running back, left the game in the third quarter after injuring his right ankle.
Pierce ran 10 times for 42 yards and two touchdowns, both coming when the Owls grabbed a 13-6 first-quarter lead. He is No. 4 on the school's all-time rushing list, with 2,386 yards, and this season has piled up 297 on 38 carries -- a 7.8 yard-per-carry average -- in leading the Owls to victories over Villanova and Akron, by respective scores of 42-7 and 41-3.
“He definitely has an NFL-type body for a running back,” Hill said. “Runs hard. Shifty.”
And works behind a big, experienced offensive line.
“They're going to come out and want to hit you in the mouth,” Hill said.
But Pierce is the key. And when somebody asked Hill what the best way might be for the Lions to defend the Temple star, he was quick with his answer.
“Playing our defense, basically,” Hill said. “We play how the coaches want us to play our responsibility, I feel it shouldn't be a huge problem coming out, playing hard and fast.”
They do that, and they will earn the pseudo-praise that has come their way this week.