Three regulars return on Penn State defense
There was so much to like from the Penn State defense in the opener. All those sacks, tackles for losses and so many young players seeing the field in meaningful minutes.
Coach James Franklin called it the “most complete” first effort by a defense since he’s been at Penn State.
And he’s not wrong.
Granted it was against Idaho and the Vandals are simply a bad football team. Still, the speed and aggressive nature in which the Nittany Lions defense went about its business was very noticeable.
So next up is Buffalo, and even though Penn State is a four-touchdown favorite the defense will receive a more thorough test from the Bulls.
Buffalo has an offensive line that features four returning starters and a running back who was the MAC Freshman of the Year in 2018 after rushing for more than 1,000 yards.
If this is going to be a better defense against the run, you will get a first glimpse of that Saturday night at Beaver Stadium.
What is most intriguing about this defense heading into Game No. 2, and something to watch against Buffalo, the Nittany Lions put on a show last week without a starter, their No. 3 cornerback and a back-up defensive tackle who has earned a first shot at making the rotation.
All three of the those players – linebacker Cam Brown, cornerback Donovan Johnson and defensive lineman Damion Barber – are slated to be fully available this week.
Johnson and Barber were suspended for the opener. Brown had to sit out the first half for a targeting penalty in the Citrus Bowl against Kentucky and played only one series before his abbreviated 2019 debut was done.
Brown made huge strides the second half of last season and is poised to be a big-time playermaker for a linebacker group that is loaded and deep.
Johnson will be a back-up to John Reid at cornerback this week, but you can expect to see him at corner when Reid shifts over the inside slot corner position. He’s not officially a starter, but Johnson is a very important component of the defensive backfield.
And Barber, who played with Micah Parsons at Harrisburg High School, owns a huge frame and has developed to the point where he’s part a back-up at defensive tackle. Those guys play in a rotation, so he’s viewed as ready for serious snaps up front.
Three guys who didn’t play a week ago on a defense that has a lot of the elements to be something special. Check them out against Buffalo and see how their first regular action in 2019 plays out.