Penn State defense delivers vs. Wisconsin and sets tone for 2021

·3 min read

Penn State’s defense turned in one of the gutsiest performances they have in a number of years. And it needed it.

Penn State opened the season in one of the toughest spots to start a season, on the road against Wisconsin with fans fired up to be back in the stands and jumping around in Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin’s defense has been one of the best defenses in the Big Ten in recent years, but Penn State’s defense was the one making the biggest plays in the season-opening 16-10 victory.

Penn State forced three turnovers, including a game-sealing interception by Ji’Ayir Brown in the closing moments. For a defense that gave up 365 yards and 29 first downs, it was all about bending and not breaking. Penn State’s defense bent, but they absolutely would not break.

Jaquan Brisker, Penn State’s All-America-caliber safety, fought through discomfort and injury concerns all game long, coming back on the field all four times he required some degree of medical attention either on the field or on the sideline, or both, And Brisker made some terrific plays in the fourth quarter, including a big pass breakup on a first down to setup a third and long that helped draw a punt by the Badgers.

Defensive end Arnold Ebekitie left the game at one point and headed to the locker room for additional treatment, but he returned to get right back into the mix in the trenches as well.

Despite being on the football field for over 20 minutes in the first half, Penn State’s defense came up big when it needed it the most. Two Wisconsin red zone trips in the first half netted zero points with a blocked field goal and Nick Tarburton pouncing on a botched handoff exchange by Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz.

For a game that was absolutely stellar by the defense, it was the timing of the lone Wisconsin touchdown drive that felt like a blow. Penn State’s defense forced a three-and-out on the first series of the second half and Jahan Dotson gave Penn State a 7-0 lead with a 49-yard reception from Sean Clifford on a busted play by the Badgers defense. But Wisconsin’s offense returned the favor with a 10-play drive spanning 75 yards for a game-tying score.

In the grand scheme of things, the timing of the touchdown drive doesn’t really matter. But having a shutdown defensive series netting zero points would have been good to see in that particular spot.

Penn state’s defense was on the field for nearly 43 minutes (42:51, officially). This isn’t a service academy we’re talking about. It was Wisconsin. Allowing just 10 points and coming up with as many red zone stops as they did gets this season starting on the right foot.

Now, a path to a 4-0 September lays in Happy Valley with the next three games at home, including a primetime showdown with Auburn in Week 3. This was one Penn State needed to set the right tone. That tone was set by the defense.

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