Penn State ready to attack Army’s triple-option offense
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Penn State’s defensive linemen haven’t seen an offense as quirky as the one Army will deploy at Beaver Stadium on Saturday.
That doesn’t mean the Nittany Lions will be unprepared or ill-equipped to deal with the Black Knights’ multi-headed, triple-option attack.
”We just have to be disciplined,” sophomore defensive end Garrett Sickels said. ”Everyone has to take care of their job. Defensive line, linebackers and the back end.”
Army (1-3) could be without quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw. But no matter who is manning the offense, Sickels is confident Penn State can continue to dominate the line of scrimmage.
Penn State (3-1) leads the nation with 18 sacks and is second with 40 tackles for losses. Tackles Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel have been boosted by the rise of Sickels and fifth-year senior Carl Nassib, who leads the country with seven sacks. The foursome has combined for 31 solo tackles that have yielded an average loss of just under a yard.
Army coach Jeff Monken has seen the tape, and after racking up 556 rushing yards against Eastern Michigan, knows Penn State’s defense poses the biggest challenge of the season so far for his squad.
”We’ve got to play our best football here because … we’re not as big and we don’t have all the numbers that somebody else might typically have,” Monken said.
Penn State has been nearly impenetrable up the middle, where 323-pound Johnson and 284-pound Zettel lurk. But the Nittany Lions have been vulnerable on outside runs. San Diego State rushed for 101 yards against Penn State, with 55 of them on an end-around from Rashaad Penny in the second quarter.
”You’ve got to have a couple different answers,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. ”How to defend the fullback dive, how to defend the quarterback, how to defend the pitch and then how to defend their version of the speed sweeps and things that they do where they motion and then toss the ball out to the guy on the edge.”
Things to watch Saturday:
TACKLE-BREAKERS: Monken praised his ballcarriers for breaking tackles to spark the team’s ground game last week, while Franklin almost simultaneously insisted Penn State’s tackling fundamentals – primarily in the secondary – need to improve quickly. Ten Black Knights got carries last week and Aaron Kemper led the team with 140 yards on 12 touches. Filling in for injured starters Marcus Allen and Jordan Lucas, Penn State safeties Malik Golden and Troy Apke struggled to wrap up against San Diego State.
ROTATING BACKS: Franklin doesn’t expect injuries to keep running backs Saquon Barkley and Akeel Lynch out for the remainder of the season, but neither was present during the portion of practice open to reporters on Wednesday. Shifty, 5-foot-6 Mark Allen and special teams dynamo Nick Scott will likely split carries if Barkley and Lynch are grounded.
RAIN AGAIN? Penn State has played two of its last three home games in rain that’s been heavy at times. And with Hurricane Joaquin bearing down on the East Coast, will likely do so again. Penn State junior quarterback Christian Hackenberg’s secret to throwing the ball in the rain? He just pretends it’s a nice, sunny day, he said.
A DEEP THREAT: Sophomore Saeed Blacknall has emerged as Hackenberg’s go-to downfield target and one the Black Knights, who gave up 280 yards passing to Eastern Michigan, will have to account for every time he’s on the field. Most of Blacknall’s routes have been deep runs and he’s averaging just over 25 yards per catch.