Penn State's D looks for fix after loss to Alabama

BY foxsports • September 15, 2010

Roughed up by Alabama, the Penn State defense is trying to bounce back this week by focusing on tackling, ball reaction and forcing turnovers.

In other words, everything that went wrong against the top-ranked Crimson Tide.

Coach Joe Paterno heaped praise Tuesday on Alabama and bruising running back Trent Richardson, who bowled over Penn State for 144 yards and a touchdown in Saturday's 24-3 loss. But Paterno also said the No. 22 Nittany Lions' defense needs to get better.

''We've got to improve our tackling and we have to improve our ball reaction. We haven't had an interception in two games, we haven't had a turnover in two games,'' Paterno said at Beaver Stadium. ''That makes it pretty tough to win against anybody.''

Penn State (1-1) has the record many fans expected after a win over FCS foe Youngstown State and the loss at Alabama - though for rather unexpected reasons.

True freshman Rob Bolden is no longer a major concern after Paterno officially declared the starting quarterback competition closed. Bolden had 144 passing yards and two interceptions in a decent outing at hostile Bryant-Denny Stadium - at least for someone less than six months removed from high school.

But a running game expected to pace the offense during Bolden's trial-by-fire education has sputtered, and top tailback Evan Royster has just 72 yards this season on 20 carries.

On the other side, 'Bama manhandled the defense. Penn State's first two opponents have completed 76 percent of their passes - not the kind of ugly stat typically attached to the Nittany Lions.

''If you could see my face now, it's not a good thing,'' sophomore cornerback Stephon Morris said in a phone interview when told about the completion rate. ''Seventy-six percent is terrible ... I think this week, we're going to see a completely different secondary and defense. This week, we're going to try to get more turnovers, and get to the quarterback.''

Paterno is worried in part about some young players on defense, or former reserves thrust into more demanding roles, such as Morris. Up front, promising tackle Devon Still is tasked with replacing disruptive force Jared Odrick, now with the Miami Dolphins, while Penn State is breaking in a new trio of linebackers.

It's not often that the linebackers get called out by Paterno, though the head coach pronounced the linebacking ''not very good. We didn't tackle well.''

He's a little more pleased with his defensive line, though neither of the starting ends, Eric Latimore and Jack Crawford, have a sack. Big things are expected out of the 6-foot-5 Crawford this season.

''It's obviously disappointing ... everything on a defensive end standpoint, it's all based on getting a sack,'' Crawford said. ''It's all about being patient, trying to put pressure on the quarterback.''

Morris said the defense was prepared for Alabama, though he's mystified why so many defensive breakdowns occurred. Paterno suggested his team may have been caught up in the spectacle of an early-season night game in hostile territory, with a chance to prove something on national television.

No hype this weekend when Kent State comes to Happy Valley in what should be a confidence-boosting game for Penn State. To get ready, Morris said the assistant coaches have urged players to follow through on tackles against the scout team, rather than just slinging arms at the ball carrier in practice.

''Going into this week that's something I can correct,'' Morris said. ''That many tackles we missed was just ridiculous and bad football.''

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