One could easily make the case that Penn State's defense carried Penn State's offense to quite a few wins during the past few seasons.
Penn State's offense will have to put some points up to beat Saturday's opponent -- the Penn State defense.
That defense now has a chance to carry itself to a win.
First-year coach Bill O'Brien will put a new spin on the Blue-White Game this year. Rather than splitting the Nittany Lions into two teams, he'll pit the entire Penn State offense (which will wear white and, in the case of the quarterbacks, red) against the entire defense (which will wear blue).
The offense can score points in typical ways (touchdowns, extra points, field goals), but will also receive two points for every gain of 15 yards or more and two more points each time it records consecutive first downs. The defense gets seven points for every touchdown it scores, six points for a turnover, four points for a sack, two points for a tackle for loss and one point if it forces the offense to go three plays and out.
This is not an original idea -- schools such as Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Michigan State and Boise State are doing it or did it this spring; Jim Tressel and Ohio State did so last year -- but it does add some more intrigue to what was already the most anticipated Penn State spring game in years, and it could highlight what many see as a big philosophical change in the program.
Joe Paterno was never shy about saying it. The winningest coach in Division I-A history wanted to win with defense, special teams ("the kicking game," as he called it) and ball-control offense -- in that order. And, although he fielded a few pretty good offenses along the way, Paterno picked up the majority of his 409 victories, particularly during the last few seasons of his career, with precisely that formula.
Last season was a perfect example. Penn State finished 11th in the Big Ten in scoring offense and 10th in total offense but, thanks to a defense that finished first in scoring and sixth in total defense (the Wisconsin and Houston games put a serious damper on that number), were one of just four Big Ten teams to win six conference games.
Defense … kicking game … offense.
If you go by the scoring format that will be used Saturday, the offense scored 441 points, or 33.9 per game. The defense scored 492 points, or 37.8 per game (A couple of interesting notes there -- the defense forced 44 three-and-outs; the offense recorded consecutive first downs just 23 times, five of those in the Indiana State game).
O'Brien would love to see his defense rack up 31 sacks and 84 tackles for loss, as Penn State did last season. He'd love it even more if it surrendered just 16.8 points per game. But judging from what he's said and, more importantly, what the Nittany Lions have done during spring ball, he's going to have the offense ready to pick up the slack if the defense needs it.
O'Brien is going to attack defenses in different ways. He's going to change the pace of the game. Paterno's offensive mantra was "take what the defense gives you." O'Brien is going to try to take what he wants and force the defense to adjust to what the offense is doing rather than the other way around. Penn State will likely take more chances on offense this season. If they pay off, the defense will be able to take more chances. If they don't, well, something tells me Ted Roof won't have a problem with taking chances then, either.
You'll see both the offense and the defense in attack mode on Saturday because of the format. You'll see it on Saturdays this fall, too. The defense might still have to win a few games for the offense. But it won't be because the offense is playing for field position.