PSU relies on simple formula for recent success

The keys to Penn State’s recent success sound about as vanilla

as their blue-and-white uniforms.

Strong defense has led the way in Happy Valley, with an assist

the last few weeks from the running game.

The Nittany Lions (5-1, 2-0 Big Ten) aren’t complaining about

the results, especially after a confidence-building 13-3 win last

week over Iowa.

“Our offense can move the ball, run the ball. Our defense can

make stops in key situations,” linebacker Nate Stupar said

Wednesday. “That’s obviously going to be a big confidence-booster

going into this week.”

Purdue (3-2, 1-0) is up next Saturday for Penn State, which is

riding a sorely-needed morale boost. The defense has played well

all year, though Linebacker U. clicked into a higher gear in

dominating Iowa – a school that had won eight of the previous nine

contests.

Monstrous 6-foot-5 tackle Devon Still spearheads everything up

front. He’s playing so well this season that he was added this week

to the watch list for the postseason Bednarik Award presented

annually to the nation’s top defender.

The unit’s gaudy statistical rankings include being No. 4 in the

FBS in total defense (250.8 yards per game) and No. 5 in scoring

(10.5 points). Penn State is also first in the Big Ten and 15th in

the country in forcing 14 turnovers.

A rash of injuries led to an unsettled lineup and a lack of

cohesion for the defense on a team that finished 7-6 last year.

This season, Stupar said the attitude on defense is different

behind strong senior leaders like Still – though he couldn’t

pinpoint a specific offseason workout or preseason practice when

the camaraderie evolved.

“Everyone just deciding, ‘Let’s go. We want to do something

special’,” Stupar said. “We’re sick of mediocre seasons.

“We want to do something great.”

The stalwart play has helped make up for the shortcomings for

the two-quarterback offense. The Nittany Lions have scored just

21.5 points a game, ahead of only Minnesota (18.0 points) in the

Big Ten.

The red zone remains a big concern, with Penn State having

scored just 11 touchdowns in 23 trips inside the 20 with just a

73.9 percent conversion rate. Only Michigan State (72 percent) is

worse in the league.

“We’re definitely looking to improve on it or it’s going to come

back to bite us pretty soon,” right guard DeOn’tae Pannell

said.

Coach Joe Paterno said he planned to spend extra time this week

on red zone offense and make the red zone playbook “more

compact.”

Paterno couldn’t pinpoint specific reasons for the woes, though

he said there were tasks inside the 20 “that could have given us a

little bit more confidence down there that we didn’t come through

with … as I mentioned, fumbling on the 3 and that kind of stuff.

It almost gets to be a self-fulfilled prophecy.”

The good news for Paterno is that the running game appears to

have regained traction. Paterno last week questioned the line’s

toughness; he clarified his remarks this week after pointing to

benchmarks for mental toughness, such as discerning the difference

between playing physical and recklessly.

Whatever the reason, the rush is improving – Penn State has

averaged 212 yards over the last two weeks.

“Guys took it upon themselves, took it personally, that people

didn’t think we could run the ball really well,” Pannell said. “We

put it on our backs and have been able to have success with

it.”

Featured back Silas Redd, a 5-foot-10 slasher with a

crowd-pleasing spin move, has run for career-highs two straight

weeks, including 142 yards against the Hawkeyes.

Bruising 6-foot-1, 235-pound backup Curtis Dukes has become an

effective, between-the-tackles complement, also rushing for

career-highs the previous two weeks. He had 60 against Iowa, taking

advantage of increased playing time with Brandon Beachum (right

foot) and Stephfon Green (off-field issues) missing time

recently.

Dukes said Wednesday he received some tips two weeks ago from

Curtis Enis, who ran for 3,256 yards and 36 touchdowns from 1995-97

at Penn State.

“Just to be really patient, and to set up my blocks, make the

right reads and hit the hole hard,” Dukes said.

Simple advice that fits right into the team’s recent

back-to-basics success.

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Follow Genaro C. Armas on Twitter at

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