With the early dominance of defensive tackle DaQuan Jones, the lack of plays being made by Deion Barnes and CJ Olaniyan was being overlooked. Unfortunately for Penn State, that weakness became glaring in its 34-31 loss to UCF on Saturday night.
In holding Syracuse to 260 total yards and Eastern Michigan to just 183, the defense looked stout and didn't show many flaws.
As quarterback Blake Bortles sat in the pocket Saturday night shredding the Nittany Lion defense for 288 yards and three touchdowns, his performance raised the question: Where is the pressure?
Bortles wasn't sacked all night and was only hurried on a couple occasions. All of that came with a makeshift offensive line due to an injured left tackle.
After being named the 2012 Thompson-Randle El Big Ten Freshman of the Year and landing on numerous Freshman All-America teams, Barnes expected to be a disruptive force for the Penn State defense in 2013. Through three games he has just four tackles, none of which occurred behind the line of scrimmage.
Barnes' starting bookend Olaniyan has been only slightly more disruptive, logging 11 tackles and a sack that came against EMU.
With his reputation coming in, the case could be made that teams are game-planning around Barnes. He has been getting chip blocks from tight ends and help from interior linemen. However, he's not the first player to receive that kind of attention. DaQuan Jones faces a double-team on nearly every play and has still been a disruptive force in the middle.
The staff will spend time in the film room this week and, with Big Ten play looming, it'll need to find ways to get pressure on the quarterback. Defensive coordinator John Butler hasn't been shy about blitzing thus far, but blitzes pose a risk. A defense can be much more effective when pressuring the quarterback with just its front four linemen.
Whether it involves stunting or giving different looks to the offensive line, Barnes and Olaniyan will need to become bigger factors or the secondary will be looking at some long Saturday afternoons this fall. As we saw against UCF, when a quarterback is allowed to sit comfortably in the pocket he becomes a dangerous weapon.
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