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Penn State will stick with no-tackle practice policy

Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles (5) passes downfield as Penn State defensive end Deion Barnes (18) pressures during the fourth quarter Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, at Beaver Stadium in University Park.

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Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013, 10:39 p.m.

UNIVERSITY PARK — After impressive showings in its first two games of the season, Penn State's defense came crashing to earth Saturday.

With a thud.

But don't expect the Nittany Lions' coaching staff to alter their “thud” non-tackling policy for practices.

After declaring his team's tackling in open space “has got to be something we improve on” following a 34-31 loss to Central Florida, Penn State defensive coordinator John Butler said it was “fair” to conclude the Lions' tackling skills perhaps have been adversely affected by the ban on full tackling during practice.

“(But) that's just a decision we have to make,” Butler said. “When you only have 62 scholarship players, you've got to do your best to get what you have to the field. You don't want to take it to 57 because you're tackling in practice.”

In the aftermath of allowing more than 500 yards to a nonconference regular-season opponent for the first time in 12 years, Butler said the Lions drill tackling “all day, every day,” working on details such as spacing and leverage skills.

“The only thing we just don't do is take them down to the ground,” Butler said. “I think it's fair to have a concern about that, but we're drilling it all the time. Maybe we just need to do it at a faster speed.”

Speed was a factor for UCF in accumulating 507 yards against Penn State. It was the most yardage for a non-Big Ten team at Beaver Stadium since Miami had 602 in 2001. The 34 points were the most allowed by the Lions in a nonconference game at home since joining the Big Ten two decades ago.

Worse, the porous defense squandered arguably the best performance this season by the Penn State offense, led by freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg.

The Lions (2-1) hadn't lost a game while scoring at least 31 points since Michigan State beat them, 35-31, in 2007.

The most recent Penn State regular-season home loss in regulation while scoring at least 31 was 35-32 to Boston College Oct. 17, 1992.

“That was not Penn State football,” linebacker Nyeem Wartman said Saturday. “We've just got to improve our tackling. That's pretty much it, plain and simple.”

Several Lions defensive players said, with quarterback Blake Bortles and some established skill offensive players, that UCF was easily the best offensive team they'd seen so far. Many also maintained the Knights' speed was an issue.

“We didn't tackle very well,” Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said. “They blocked us, they made some plays. Give them a lot of credit. They had a good plan.”

The Lions' defense figures to have to get things right Saturday when Kent State(1-2) visits Beaver Stadium.

The Golden Flashes are tied for 113th nationally in total offense.

But Big Ten play looms after that, beginning at Indiana (No. 8 nationally at 571.3 total yards per game). A home game against No. 15 Michigan follows.

“We have to have a short memory,” safety Malcolm Willis said. “This game is over. We have to … watch the film and see what mistakes we made here and there. We had quite a few on the defensive end of the ball.”

Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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