Defense Struggles For Answers

Defense Struggles For Answers

Penn State could not find a way to stop Blake Bortles and UCF's well-tuned offense in a 34-31 loss at Beaver Stadium Saturday night.

Bill O'Brien still has to watch the video. That's what he kept saying after Penn State's 34-31 loss to Central Florida on Saturday night in Beaver Stadium. Only then can he fully appreciate the ugliness of his team's defensive effort.

But in real time, the first thing he noticed was this: “We didn't tackle very well.”

True.

Nor did they cover, nor mount much of a pass rush.

The Knights (3-0) did what they wanted most of the day, piling up 507 yards. That the score was as close as it was is a tribute to the Nittany Lions' offense -- in short, Christian Hackenberg and Zach Zwinak were good, while Allen Robinson was again off the charts -- and a bad snap on a Central Florida punt late in the game, which set up Hackenberg's two-yard TD toss to Robinson with 2:51 left.

The defense, given one last opportunity to make a stand, could not. Central Florida exhausted the remaining time.

Middle linebacker Glenn Carson and defensive tackle DaQuan Jones, so good in the first two games, were non-factors. Jordan Lucas and Trevor Williams, the newcomers at cornerback, were exposed, in no small part because the pass rush failed to muster so much as a single sack.

Williams, in fact, was benched in the second half, as safety Adrian Amos slid over to corner.

UCF quarterback Blake Bortles went 20-for-27 for 288 yards and three touchdowns. While he was intercepted by Malcolm Willis in the second quarter -- Bortles' first pick in 232 attempts -- he did little else wrong.

Storm Johnson gained 117 of the Knights' 219 rushing yards, as UCF averaged 5.8 yards per attempt. Penn State had allowed 1.8 per rush in its first two games, and a total of 132 yards. The Lions had also been yielding an average of just 221.5 yards of total offense.

So much for all that.

And back to the shoddy tackling for a moment. It was illustrated most notably with 8:46 left in the third quarter, when the Knights, already leading 21-10, drove from their 18 to the PSU 25. Bortles had hit J.J. Worton for a gain of 44, and on second-and-10 he slipped a pass to Josh Reese in the right flat.

Lucas and Willis had him lined up, and whiffed. That enabled Reese to complete the 25-yard scoring play, extending the visitors' lead to 28-10.

It proved too deep a hole for the Nittany Lions.

“Honestly, we thought we would be able to handle both (the run and the pass) better,” Penn State defensive coordinator John Butler said. “It's a collective effort. Coaches and players have to look at the tape and figure out what it was.”

And really, it was everything.

“They just did a better job collectively,” Butler said. “Their players executed the game plan probably better than ours did. And their offensive coaches coached better than I did tonight. Give credit to them. Their quarterback's a really good player.”

Bortles spread the credit around, saying his line blocked well and his receivers ran good routes. “I just distributed the ball in all the right places,” he said.

Every time, it seemed.

“We knew he was a great quarterback coming into the game,” Willis said. “We talked about it all week: If we don't disguise our coverages and our fronts and stuff like that, he's going to eat us up. And that's what he did. We disguised well enough at points, but we have to be a consistent team.”

Now they have to be a mentally tough team.

“We have to treat it like a bad play -- you've just got to forget it,” Jones said of the loss. “You can't do anything about it. You can't go in the past and fix it. We have to move on and just prepare for Kent State.”

Added Butler, “There is no concern. If there is one thing people should know about our players it is they've been through a lot worse than losing to Central Florida. Their confidence is going to be shaken like it always is in a loss, but they'll come back to the drawing board Monday. Just want Coach OB said -- put your nose back to the grindstone and correct what we have to correct and move forward. I have no concern about that.”

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