Stingy Penn State not allowing many 1st downs, let alone points |

Stingy Penn State not allowing many 1st downs, let alone points

Barry Reeger | Trib Total Media
Penn State linebacker Mike Hull (43) tackles Temple running back Jahad Thomas (34) on Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014, in University Park.

Perhaps the best way to describe the Penn State defense’s dominance on the field is to show how good it has been at getting off of it.

The Nittany Lions have been quite adept at forcing the three-and-out.

An analysis of every possession opponents have had against Penn State this season reveals a team is more than twice as likely to have a drive end without even one first down as it is to end up with points.

“Our guys (on defense) are playing confident right now,” PSU coach James Franklin said.

“They’re playing aggressive. They’re having fun. They’re playing an exciting style of defense.”

In 10 games, opposing offenses have accounted for 134 possessions that did not end with an end-of-half kneel-down.

Of that total, 62 did not result in a first down. Most of those are the traditional three-and-out, although that number also includes “four-and-outs” (in which an opponent loses possession on downs before gaining a first down) or turnovers that happen within the first three plays of a drive.

That’s 46.3 percent of opposing drives ending without a first down. Additionally, 50.1 percent have traveled fewer than 10 yards and 20.9 percent netted zero or negative yards.

Only 19.4 percent of (26 of 134) opponent possessions have resulted in points — of those, 13 were drives of 30 yards or less, and 17 went for 40 yards or less.

“After something big happens in a game — there’s a turnover or we need a stop to get momentum back in a game — (coaches) always emphasize three-and-outs,” senior linebacker Mike Hull said. “(But) once you get out there, if you just play good defense, it’ll all take care of itself.”

The irony is that, by playing such stout defense, Penn State’s defenders are creating more work for themselves — especially because PSU’s offense is ranked 13th in the Big Ten. Short possessions mean more possessions.

Long stretches of a couple of recent games featured dueling three-plays-and-punt, ad nauseam. A seven-possession stretch in the third quarter against Maryland, for example, featured just one first down. Also, the first quarter against Indiana had just five combined first downs over eight possessions.

With Penn State’s offensive struggles — particularly the Lions being last in the Big Ten in rushing — in mind, it’s remarkable that the Lions are third in the Big Ten in time of possession. Put bluntly, the Lions aren’t holding the ball for more than 32 minutes per game on the strength of a ball-control offense or a strong running game.

No, that’s all a credit to the defense — One that some are beginning to suggest might be one of the best in the program’s history.

“Obviously, third down is something we focus on, trying to get off the field turn the ball back over to our offense,” safety Jesse Della Valle said. “It’s just a one-play-at-a-time mentality, making sure your correct in your assignments and things like that.”

Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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