UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -
Penn State defensive coordinator Ted Roof challenged his unit following the
season-opener against Ohio.
The Nittany Lions allowed 499 yards of offense against the Bobcats, something
senior defensive tackle Jordan Hill said that he was not going to let happen
again after the game.
After week one, the defense knew it needed to play more consistently and force turnovers at Virginia.
Led by a dominant performance from senior linebacker Michael Mauti, Penn State answered with a strong defensive outing in Charlottesville on Saturday afternoon. One week after the Lions did not force a turnover against Ohio, they created four at Virginia. Additionally, Penn State limited the Cavaliers to just 295 total offensive yards.
"I'm pretty happy with our defensive effort," Mauti said. "Obviously, we always have areas to improve on, but we made a big improvement from where we were last week. I was very proud of our defensive effort today."
Mauti led the team with nine tackles on Saturday afternoon. He also forced a fumble, recovered a fumble and knocked down a pass. The senior outside linebacker also played an instrumental role on special teams, providing a big hit on a Virginia punt return.
For Mauti, turnovers were the big key to the defense making strides on Saturday.
"All week, we were harping on turnovers," Mauti said. "We wanted to get our hands on the ball, and I think we did a good job of that. We got four turnovers, so that is a big improvement. Anytime you have four turnovers, it is going to set you up in a good position to score points. Now, we just have to keep working hard."
Hill made an acrobatic interception on a superb defensive read during a Virginia screen pass attempt. He rushed nine yards following his first career interception, but Hill wants more when the defense gets its hands on a turnover.
"We made a lot of strides on defense," Hill said. "We forced turnovers, but we have to look to score on them too. I had an interception, but I need to go get a pick six out of it."
Head coach Bill O'Brien echoed Mauti's remarks about the improvement on the defensive side of the ball at UVa. It was not a perfect performance, and the team will continue working on getting off the field on third down this week, but there were a lot of positives.
"I thought the (defense) played their tails off and they did a lot of things really well," Coach O'Brien said after the game. "They got a bunch of turnovers, a couple third and longs here and there, but they played very well. We spend a lot of time with turnovers in practice. Coach Roof and the defensive staff there do a great job of emphasizing getting the ball out, batting the ball down, and they practice it every day. I think a lot of it has to do with those kids and good practice habits."
Aside from a couple key third down conversions, the Nittany Lion defense took a big step forward on Saturday afternoon. Navy's option attack will be a unique challenge for the Lions to prepare for this week, but the unit has a lot to build on following Virginia.
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