VIDEO: James Franklin Postgame - Akron | VIDEO: Postgame Player Interviews - Akron
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Relentless pursuit has been the name of the game for the Penn State defense since the start of spring practice in March.
Head coach James Franklin, defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and the rest of the Penn State defensive coaching staff have preached aggressiveness. Through two weeks, the Nittany Lion defense has been a group attacking its opponent from the moment the team steps off the bus.
On the heels of a 21-3 victory over Akron in Saturday's home opener, the Lions sit among the nation's top 15 in two major defensive stat categories. Penn State is 15th in total defense, allowing its first two opponents just 261.5 yards per game. The Nittany Lions rank fourth nationally in rushing defense after allowing a total of 93 yards on 54 carries in the first two games (1.7 ypc).
"We played pretty well. I know we held (Akron) to around 270 yards," cornerback Jordan Lucas said. "We made some mistakes but the great thing about it is it's early in the season. We get to go watch film, have practice and go over corrections and we'll build from that."
The strong defensive start and stout play against the run begins in the trenches. Penn State's front four has been the catalyst.
"Our defensive line will come after you and fight off the ball," said defensive tackle Anthony Zettel. "With an aggressive defense with play calling, I feel like we all benefit off it. I couldn't be happier playing with all the guys on the defense and Coach Shoop making great calls and having confidence in him."
Defensively, the Nittany Lions have allowed just one rush of more than 15 yards in the opening two games. Additionally, the group has made 14 tackles for loss. Senior linebacker Mike Hull leads the unit with 22 tackles, which ranks second in the Big Ten.
"We are always in attack mode every play from beginning to end. We are fired up and aggressive," said linebacker Brandon Bell.
The aggressive nature is something the players have become accustomed to on the practice field. And it's something they enjoy on Saturdays.
"I love it. Our defense makes us pin our ears back and get after it," Bell said.
"We're playing fast this year. We're getting to the ball. We're swarming," said defensive end Deion Barnes.
Keeping Akron out of the end zone was a big goal of the Nittany Lions. The Zips threatened with three trips inside the red zone, but the Lions held strong and limited Akron to just three points.
"With Coach Shoop, that's one of his big things is keeping the offense out of the end zone," Lucas said. "If we can hold the team out from getting in the end zone, we must do that."
Two weeks in, the Lions are playing with great confidence on the defensive side of the ball. The players relish in the opportunity to attack and play with aggression on every snap. Now, the unit is looking to take the next step.
"I think they're playing well. Probably the focus I have is to create more three-and-outs and we have to create more turnovers. We have to do those two things," said Coach Franklin.
Penn State has forced just one turnover during the first two games. That's a figure Coach Shoop and the Lions will be looking to build on this week as the team prepares for the Big Ten opener at Rutgers. Nonetheless, the defense has a lot to build on after two stout performances to open 2014.
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