Penn State Football: Defense grows as offense struggles


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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Penn State's nationally ranked defense entered this past Saturday's Big Ten Conference opener at Indiana without two of its top players for the first time.

Outside linebacker Michael Mauti is sidelined for the rest of the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee Sept. 24 against Eastern Michigan.

Cornerback D'Anton Lynn suffered a concussion in the same game and was not cleared to play in the Nittany Lions' 16-10 victory against the Hoosiers at Memorial Stadium.

Early in the second half Saturday, Penn State lost cornerback Stephon Morris, who was subbing for Lynn, with a sprained ankle.

But the Lions' defense still had enough firepower to stop a potential game-winning drive by Indiana that ended with an incompletion at the Lions' 5 as time expired.

"It's exciting, there's no doubt about that," Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. "It's interesting, because you grow as a defense when that happens.

"We've been there a couple times and you gain some confidence that we can do this at the end of the game."

Penn State held Indiana's offense to 256 yards, including only 72 on the ground.

"We've got to somehow step our offense up and the defense is just going to have to play better because we're going to have to put games away," defensive tackle and co-captain Devon Still said. "We can't keep leaving it until the end of the game because it's going to bite us in the butt one day, and it's not going to be good."

Outside linebacker Gerald Hodges tied his career-high with 11 tackles for the Lions. He also had 11 stops against Alabama earlier this season.

Defensive tackle Jordan Hill recorded a career-high three tackles for loss and he registered the team's lone sack.

"I thought our defense played a good solid football game, as they have all year," Penn State coach Joe Paterno said.

Defensive end Sean Stanley forced his third fumble of the year. It was recovered by Still on Indiana's 13 early in the third quarter and helped set up one of three field goals by Anthony Fera, a 27-yarder, that gave Penn State the lead for good at 6-3.

"We're getting better as a defense," Bradley said. "We're hanging in there, and people are fighting. We have to learn how to play a complete game. We have too many lapses and penalties, and that's not good in crucial situations."

Penn State (4-1, 1-0) returns to Beaver Stadium Saturday for its Big Ten Conference home opener against nemesis Iowa (3-1, 0-0), which was idle this past weekend.

It is unclear whether Lynn or Morris will be able to play against the Hawkeyes. If they can't go, freshman Adrian Amos will get the call once again.

"Stephon got banged up [Saturday] and we had to bring in 'Famous' Amos," Bradley said. "He got a lot of playing time -- there were a lot of things happening to him in the passing game, but I thought he did well."

Bradley said Morris tweaked his ankle late in the first half against Indiana.

"I thought he would be able to go in the second half, he gave it a whirl and then he took himself out," Bradley said.

Bradley said Lynn's return is up to the medical staff.

"He has to pass a battery of tests and then he has to do some physical things and then he has to get back in there [in contact] again. A lot of times, from that injury, people say it's very hard," Bradley said.

"You've got to get yourself mentally back in the game to play again. But if anyone can do it, I'm sure D'Anton can."

Offensive coordinator Galen Hall, whose unit managed just three field goals and a touchdown against Indiana, is happy the defense has been so solid.

Penn State has forced 11 turnovers in five games after producing just 17 turnovers in 13 games last year. And the Lions have held four of their opponents to 10 points or fewer for the first time since 1996.

"Our defense is playing very well, thank heavens," Hall said. "Offensively, we've got to step up, execute better, run better, block better and the whole thing that goes with it.

"At times [Saturday], we were all right and at times we weren't. We were inconsistent on offense, and we can't do that."


Ron Musselman: rmusselman@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rmusselmanppg.


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