Linebacker U looks to bounce back

Associated Press


Linebacker U. didn’t live up to its lofty standards this season.

Penn State allowed an uncharacteristically high 164 rushing yards per game and lacked a pass rush. They were porous in the red zone, allowing foes to score 30 of 32 times inside the 20 (24 touchdowns).

So a defense ravaged by injuries sees the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 vs. Florida (7-5) as a chance to take the first step toward shoring up the holes in 2011.

“I think we’ve grown tremendously as linebackers and that’s going to move on toward these next couple practices and to the bowl game and after the bowl game to next season,” junior linebacker Nathan Stupar said. “I have a feeling that you guys are really going to see that next season.”

There were flashes of dominance at times, but those moments were outnumbered by periods of middling defense — not a term that typically comes to mind when talking Penn State football. This is the program, after all, that has produced linebacking greats like Jack Ham and Shane Conlan, not to mention more recent standouts like Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman. Those playmakers left last season, along with defensive tackle Jared Odrick, three stars who commanded attention from opposing offensive coordinators.

The defensive line, though, couldn’t get enough push up front, and two juniors pegged for breakout campaigns — tackle Devon Still and end Jack Crawford — fell short of expectations. Penn State (7-5) is ninth in the Big Ten with 16 sacks. Crawford was slowed by a foot injury much of the season, but wasn’t playing well, even when healthy.

He was part of a lengthy list of defenders sent to the sideline. Among the other notable names, safety Nick Sukay (chest) is out for the year, while it’s unclear whether defensive end Eric Latimore (left wrist) will return for the Outback Bowl.