Penn State Football: Why Defense Will Have to Lead the Team in 2013

Barry LeonardAnalyst IIIJanuary 27, 2013

STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 15:  Quarterback Keenan Reynolds #19 of the Navy Midshipmen is stopped by the Penn State Nittany Lions defense during the second half at Beaver Stadium on September 15, 2012 in State College, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Penn State Nittany Lions will have several holes to fill in 2013 on both sides of the ball—most notably, replacing quarterback Matt McGloin, who led the Nittany Lions last season and made them the No. 2 passing offense in the Big Ten.

There will no doubt be an adjustment period on offense, that means that the defense, especially early on, is going to have to step up and lead in 2013.

Though there will be several starters returning on offense, one has to think that the team could struggle early on with an inexperienced signal-caller.  This year's team will take the field with a new leader at quarterback. Top recruit Christian Hackenberg, junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson and 2012 backup Steven Bench will all be vying to be named the starter.

Whoever gets the job, there are sure to be growing pains as the offense evolves throughout the season.  Bench is the only one with Division I experience, though he threw just eight passes in 2012. It takes time to learn the speed of the college game, develop a relationship with the receivers and to gain a knack for reading defenses.

The production that Penn State can expect from the quarterback position in 2013 is unknown and hard to predict. The Nittany Lions will likely rely heavily on the running game in order to take pressure off the passing attack.

The running game struggled in 2012, meaning that the play of McGloin was even more important to the success of the team. Even with the emergence of running back Zack Zwinak last season, the Nittany Lions ranked ninth in the Big Ten, averaging just 144.3 rushing yards per game.

Defenses will key on the backs, making the Nittany Lions beat them through the air.

While it may take a few games for the offense to gel in 2013, the defense is going to have to take a lead role. A solid defensive performance can keep any team in a game, regardless of any offensive struggles. 

Although the unit will have to make up for the losses of Jordan Hill, Sean Stanley, Stephon Morris, Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges, it will still be solid. Despite the key losses, Penn State still returns seven guys who started last year, including Big Ten Freshman of the Year, defensive end Deion Barnes.

The secondary, which will return three regular starters, should be the strongest piece of the defense. Adrian Amos, Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong all bring valuable experience that will be relied on heavily in 2013.

Barnes and Da'Quan Jones, who both started last year, will anchor the defensive line. Starting middle linebacker Glenn Carson and the talented Mike Hull will be the core of the linebackers.

Fans should not expect to see the same Penn State offense as last season right away. Yes, a lot of the faces will be the same, but it's going to take time for the new quarterback to get everything clicking.

While the offense will be in a learning mode, the defense will be the backbone of the 2013 Penn State Nittany Lions.