IOWA CITY, Iowa — Penn State’s defense has drawn plenty of attention for its ability to drop the passer.
Shaka Toney insists the Nittany Lions are doing something else defensively that pleases them even more.
Heading into Saturday night’s clash with No. 17 Iowa at Kinnick Stadium, the No. 12 Nittany Lions ranked seventh in the nation in total sacks and first overall with 5 sacks per game, but one of their best pass rushers insists that only happens because Penn State has been so good against the run.
“We took the running game very seriously this year,” Toney said. “We weren’t satisfied with how we played the run last year, how we’d let people get over 100 yards; you can’t be an elite defense letting people run all over you. Talk to any defensive coordinator, any defensive player, everybody’s job should be stopping the run, because if you make a team one-dimensional, that makes everything else a whole lot easier.”
Penn State certainly has done that much.
The Lions are allowing 50.6 rushing yards per game, the third-lowest total in the nation; their 1.46 yards-per-rush average is the best. Buffalo rushed for 184 yards on 54 carries on Sept. 7. But the other four Penn State opponents have rushed for a combined 69 yards on 115 carries.
“We don’t even think about rushing the quarterback until third down,” Toney said. “We want opposing teams in third-and-8, third-and-9, because we want to come out and be physical every single play when it comes to running the ball. We just don’t want to allow anybody to run it.
“That’s our No. 1 goal, over sacks or TFLs or anything.”
The run-happy Hawkeyes, however, posed a Buffalo-like challenge, at least on paper. In the first half Saturday night, the Hawkeyes gained 49 yards rushing on 19 plays, a 2.6 yards per rush average. However, 29 of those yards came on one play, a rush by Tyler Goodson that set up Iowa’s late field goal with 20 seconds left before halftime.
You have free articles remaining.
Several Penn State players had a message for the letter-writing fan who criticized safety Jonathan Sutherland’s hair last week, if you were quick enough to see it.
Safety Lamont Wade and several teammates wore white, long-sleeved T-shirts during pregame warmups that read “Chains, Tattoos, Dreads & We Are” as they took the field for warmups. A Penn State team manager collected the shirts from the players not long into the session.
“While we are supportive of our students expressing themselves in a thoughtful manner, they are expected to wear team-issued apparel on game day,” Penn State athletics said in a statement. “We asked our students to remove the shirts out of an abundance of caution for NCAA compliance.”
Reaction to the letter, which was shared via Twitter by Sutherland teammates Antonio Shelton and C.J. Holmes, is still strong around the Nittany Lions. ESPN’s College Gameday aired a segment discussing it on its pregame show from LSU on Saturday morning, and players throughout the week continued to voice support for Sutherland.
“If Jonathan is going through it emotionally, we’ll carry him throughout the whole time and making sure he’s OK and things like that,” linebacker Micah Parsons said. “We’re just going to come together even more and just be the brotherhood that we are.”
Receiver Justin Shorter, who missed the Purdue game after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit the week before against Maryland, made the trip. ... Penn State used five of its 74 spots on the travel roster on quarterbacks, including true freshmen Ta’Quan Roberson and Michael Johnson Jr. Head coach James Franklin said earlier in the week he wanted to bring his two young prospects on the trip — the Lions brought only Johnson to Maryland — to experience the famed Kinnick atmosphere. ... Veteran Iowa guard Cole Banwart missed the game with an injury. Sophomore Mark Kallenberger made his first career start in his stead. ... Iowa kicker Keith Duncan’s 47-yard field goal with 2:12 left in the first quarter marked the first points scored by a Penn State opponent in the first quarter this season. The Nittany Lions were the last team in the Football Bowl Subdivision to allow first-quarter points this season.