Is Penn State’s defense really as bad as it looked?

Penn State gave up 38 points to a mid-major at home Saturday night, barely escaping Appala-chian State with a 45-38 OT victory.

So, the defense is awful, right?

It sure looked that way. But maybe, just maybe things won’t be as bad as they appeared in the opener.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I believe PSU’s defense is going to struggle big time this season. The Nittany Lions are replacing eight starters. Tackle depth and experience could be big problems, and the middle linebacker spot is a huge concern.

App State pummeled PSU’s defense for 28 points in the fourth quarter, gained 451 yards, and passed for 292.

Now, I realize I’m not the guy Penn State fans turn to for glass-is-half-full optimism, but I’m going to take a crack at it. The Lions’ defense allowed only three points over the first three quarters, with App State’s other seven points coming on a kickoff return for a TD.

The Mountaineers gained 60 yards on their first series of the night, then gained just 6, 3, 26, 5 and 24 yards on their next five series until starting a drive late in the third quarter.

To quote ESPN’s college football wrapup story on PSU, “The defense had a bad quarter, not a bad game.”

Penn State was playing, remember, without starting defensive tackle Kevin Givens, who was suspended for violating team rules. You have to believe some things might have been a bit different for App State in the fourth quarter had Givens played.

Cornerback John Reid also sat for long portions of the game for unknown reasons (maybe he was hurt, but he was on the field late).

So, what we’re left wondering is: Will PSU’s defense more closely resemble the solid unit from the first three quarters, or the one that got destroyed in the fourth quarter?

The Lions are playing a lot of young players on defense, and those guys will get better as the season goes on. The secondary has a chance to be good, despite what it showed in the fourth quarter, and Amani Oruwariye showed he’s the real deal with his game-ending interception.

Now, for the glass-half-empty perspective.

Penn State’s defense got shredded by a redshirt sophomore quarterback, Zac Thomas, making his first career start. He threw all of 10 passes last season.

Thomas wasn’t pressured much (PSU had two sacks), he got rid of the ball quickly, and he was hitting targets who were wide open on short routes. The longer throws were better covered, and Thomas put the ball on the money several times, showing great accuracy and touch.

If the Lions don’t get better pressure on opposing quarterbacks, they are going to get lit up through the air. You can say that about most defenses, but it will be even more of a problem for Penn State because the front seven probably will have trouble stopping the run, as well.

App State had 159 yards rushing, behind an offensive line that averages just 283 pounds.

Good grief, what might Wisconsin and its collection of 320-pound linemen do to Penn State’s defense?

One big question going forward is just how long Givens will be out. If it was just a one-game suspension, then he could, and will, need to have a big impact this week at Pitt.

But if Givens has to sit out this week, as well, the Panthers will have a stronger chance of controlling the clock with their running game, thereby giving them a better chance at an upset.

All we know for sure after week one is that Penn State’s defense got embarrassed by App State, and it took Trace McSorley and the offense to bail them out.

That’s what I expected to happen a whole bunch this season, just not in this game.

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