They’re just kids, but sometimes you have to just call it how you see it.
Penn State Football defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has put together one of the best defenses in the country in State College, allowing only 22 points through the first two games of the season.
This was a unit that was elite last year, as well, and returned nine starters from 2022, so expectations were very high and so far so good … almost.
The overall body of work in stopping the ground game was solid last season. But, the Wolverines gashing Diaz’s unit to the tune of 418 yards on 7.6 yards per carry will stick with you.
After going back and analyzing and breaking down some of the tape, it’s clear it wasn’t all just Penn State being manhandled at the line of scrimmage, it was part schematic as well.
How to Fix The Penn State Football Rushing Defense
The Nittany Lions were not gap sound against Michigan, and that killed them.
We have seen that issue rear its ugly head yet again this season, both on a few occasions against West Virginia, and then again against Delaware this past Saturday, when running back Marcus Yarns broke a 66 yard touchdown run on a third and short.
Take a look at the play below thanks to our friends at Hardcore Penn State Football:
Franklin on this play— Hardcore Penn State Football (@HardcorePSUFB) September 10, 2023
“ We were not gap sound. The ball found that gap. If you are supposed to be in B gap, you need to be in the B gap”
Have we not been telling y’all for a year it’s not a question of size, but of being gap sound pic.twitter.com/uJ8EsXbsbi
That glaring issue is number 43, linebacker Tyler Elsdon.
If Penn State continues to run number 43 out there for 20 plus snaps a game, it is going to ruin their season.
On this play he entirely leaves his gap to get behind the wall of defenders? And the running back easily bounces to daylight where 43 should be and he is off to the races.
Elsdon has been a position battle for the middle linebacker spot with Kobe King for the past two seasons, and despite King being the starter this year, Elsdon sees the field plenty.
Listed at six-foot-two and 233 pounds he is small for an inside linebacker on an elite Big Ten defense, not to mention he lacks the athleticism to go sideline to sideline and is not a particularly a great tackler either.
Don’t believe me? Pull up some highlights from the Utah game in the Rose Bowl, or watch him chase after Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards in Ann Arbor last season. He was the linebacker that got himself out of position on the run by Trevyon Henderson in the Ohio state game last season that broke Penn State’s back in that one, a game that ended up costing them a college football playoff berth.
You can see that play below as well:
Kobe King has been solid in the first two games.
No defensive player saw more than 25 snaps in Saturday’s blowout, but we saw entirely too much Elsdon. King has recorded five tackles thus far, while Elsdon has recorded one.
The Nittany Lions are a little thin at the position after Jamari Buddin transferred out this offseason, but this should be King’s spot and his alone as they get into the Big Ten schedule.
Run-on Dom Deluca is a nice energy player that provides good depth and it would be crazy for the Nittany Lions to not continue to not get more reps to young players such as Keon Wylie and Kaveion Keys.
The blind loyalty to Elsdon has the potential to ruin what could be a special season in Happy Valley.