TAMPA, Fla. - D'Anton Lynn put up some pretty good numbers on the Penn State defense this season, tying for first on the team in unassisted tackles and ranking third in total tackles.
Those numbers, however, don't look as good when you consider Lynn is a cornerback, meaning that opponents of the Nittany Lions found success rushing the football past the front seven, or completing passes at a higher-than-average rate.
The Lions dropped significantly in all defensive categories from 2009, a negative factor in their 7-5 regular-season record. Lynn said that while the team suffered injuries on defense, there was no excuse for the subpar performance.
"We had spurts of playing well, but we just never put a whole game together," the 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior said during a break in preparations for Saturday's Outback Bowl against Florida.
"It might have been a lack of experience, but as the season went on there really wasn't any excuse for that because we all had experience. So we really don't know what that was. But that's something that we've been working on getting ready for this game."
It figured the Lions would drop a bit defensively after having four starters from the 2009 team taken in the NFL draft. But they couldn't have expected this type of plunge.
Penn State allowed 22.6 points per game, more than 10 higher than last season. They gave up nearly 75 more rushing yards and 78 more total yards per game. Though the passing yardage was about the same, opponents completed 61.7 percent of their passes and threw for 19 touchdowns, almost double last year's figure.
The Nittany Lions must be at the top of their game against Florida and its speedy offensive skill people, four of whom have starred in track and field either in high school or currently for the Gators.
Lynn encountered the same style in last year's Capital One Bowl against LSU, only to see the Tigers' speed nullified by muddy conditions in the Lions' 19-17 win in Orlando.
"They're definitely fast, but their receivers are different," Lynn said. "LSU's receivers were real big and tall. Florida has some size, but it's more speed that we're worried about with them. We can't give up the big play because each of those guys has the ability to score every time they touch the ball."
Despite the defense's season, Lynn remains a steady member of the secondary. The son of Anthony Lynn, who won two Super Bowl rings with Denver and now coaches the New York Jets' running backs, he made honorable-mention all-Big Ten for the second straight season.
Perhaps the highlight of his year came against Minnesota, where he intercepted a pass 8 yards deep in the end zone, elected to run it out, and got to the Golden Gophers' 42. From there, Matt McGloin (his roommate) threw his first career touchdown pass on his way to earning the starting-quarterback job.
There was talk that Lynn would test the NFL waters after the Outback Bowl, but he decided not to submit the paperwork to find out where he stands among players eligible to declare for the draft.
"If the NFL is in my future it's going to be next year, so I'm really not worried about it," he said. "If I make it, I make it. If I don't, I don't. I'm not in any hurry. I'm in college right now, enjoying life. I'm not in any rush to leave and be on my own right now. I'm having fun in college.
"I think I have the potential, but I'm not ready right now. I need to have a big season next year. I think I need to improve my ball skills and being more physical getting off blocks."
For now, Lynn and his teammates on defense want to show they can put together a consistently fine effort for 60 minutes and end the season with satisfaction and some momentum going into the spring.
"We're going to go in there and play it like there isn't any other game," he said. "It's not like we have something to prove in this game specifically. I think the whole defense had a letdown, especially the secondary, but we're going to do our best and look forward."
Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or email@example.com.