Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Penn State's, Syracuse's strong pass rush could unleash first D-I sack on new QBs

Penn State's offensive line will look to protect either quarterback Christian Hackenberg or Tyler Ferguson against an effective Syracuse pass rush.

Penn State's, Syracuse's strong pass rush could unleash first D-I sack on new QBs

Penn State quarterbacks Tyler Ferguson and Christian Hackenberg. (Nabil K. Mark/Centre Daily Times/AP)
Penn State quarterbacks Tyler Ferguson and Christian Hackenberg. (Nabil K. Mark/Centre Daily Times/AP)

For quarterbacks, turf tastes worst behind the line of scrimmage.  

Syracuse and Penn State will both send two first-time starting quarterbacks onto the football field at MetLife Stadium this Saturday. Whoever they are, both are probably worried about their first Division I sack in their new uniforms. 

Either true freshman Christian Hackenberg or junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson will rely on Penn State's offensive line to hold off that sack as long as possible. But junior guard Miles Dieffenbach said his unit will have its hands full with Syracuse’s uncompromising front four. 

“They’re really good,” Dieffenbach said. “No. 96 [defensive tackle Jay] Bromley is a really big guy and a run stuffer. He’s good in the pass game. I think the rest are a little bit young, except for Bromley. I think they’re going to bring some power and size that we’re going to have to deal with.” 

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The Nittany Lions’ man under center will stand behind a wall made up of a Donovan Smith, John Urschel, Dieffenbach, Ty Howle and either Adam Gress or Garry Gilliam. The first three started last season, which sets up the line with more experience entering 2013 than it did entering 2012 — center Matt Stankiewitch was the only returning starter. 

The Orange’s potential starters racked up 13 total sacks in 2012 (counting assisted sacks as a one-half sack) — more than half came from their linebackers. Penn State’s potential starters crunched the quarterback for a loss 14.5 times — more than half came from their defensive line.

Deion Barnes led those contributors with six sacks last season. He’s back at defensive end, but he’s not the only one who wants to eat some Orange in Saturday’s game.

Safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong may come into the box on some plays given Penn State’s short depth at linebacker. The New York City native said he relishes any opportunity he can find to break through to the backfield. He may value those chances even more so as he gets to play in the stadium of his hometown NFL teams. 

But MetLife Stadium’s local allure will also course through many of Syracuse’s players who hail from the area. It’s a neutral site, but some individual Penn State and Syracuse athletes will have homefield advantage Saturday.

Neither Hackenberg nor Ferguson are in that group. Hopefully for them, it doesn’t mean more — and harder — sacks. 

“The best thing we can do to calm them down is give them as much time in the pocket as possible,” Dieffenbach said. 

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About this blog
Joe Juliano has been a staff writer for The Inquirer for 30 years, covering covering Penn State football, Villanova basketball and other college sports, along with golf and the Penn Relays. This is his seventh season on The Inquirer’s Penn State beat. He previously covered the Nittany Lions for United Press International from 1976-84.

Joining Joe this season is Erin McCarthy, an intern for The Inquirer and a junior at Penn State majoring in print and digital journalism. This is Erin's first season on the Penn State football beat. She previously spent two summers as an Inquirer summer intern on the Pennsylvania and South Jersey desks. She is also an editor for the Daily Collegian, the university's student newspaper. A Delaware County native, Erin graduated from Episcopal Academy.

Joe Juliano Inquirer Staff Writer
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