In one sense, it's been a tough season for the Penn State defense. The Nittany Lions, perennially a top-10 unit during the last several years, will enter Saturday's game at Temple ranked 68th in FBS and 10th in the Big Ten in total defense, at 395 yards allowed per game.
Michael Mauti has been a part of two of Penn State's eight takeaways and leads the team in tackles.
In another sense, it's been a tough season for the guys who have to protect the ball against that defense.
Penn State has come up with eight takeaways, all in the last two weeks. Only seven teams in the nation have forced more turnovers.
"Guys are flying around," linebacker Michael Mauti said Tuesday. "Playing with a lot of energy, playing better assignments."
After an ugly performance in the second half of the season-opening loss to Ohio, the defense has responded. Players are rallying to the football, laying into opponents with big hits and looking to create havoc whenever they can. Part of it is an increased comfort level with Ted Roof's new schemes, said Mauti, and part of it is simply desire.
"We always play with emotion on defense," Mauti said. "It just comes down to guys getting more experienced, getting more comfortable with the plays, playing with discipline, getting after the football and making big plays on defense."
Mauti, who leads the Nittany Lions and is third in the Big Ten with 33 tackles, has made a few of those big plays himself. He has forced one fumble, recovered another and nearly came up with an interception against Virginia.
Turnovers have always been a point of emphasis at Penn State, but the new coaching staff has taken it to another level. In the Lasch Building, there is a football mounted to the wall by a spring. Every time the players (and even some of the coaches) walk in and out of meetings, Mauti said, they rip at the ball, subconsciously planting images of turnovers in their minds.
Penn State takes on a dual-threat quarterback this weekend in Temple's Chris Coyer, who will run some of the "Tim Tebow" packages head coach Steve Addazio imported from Florida, where he coached the former Heisman Trophy winner. The Owls, who have turned the ball over three times in two games, pose another kind of challenge for a defense that's already seen three very different offenses.
Mauti, who was named the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Week, believes it's another opportunity for the defense to progress.
"We need to get better on third down and making better plays on the ball in the air," he said. "Sound coverages, playing tough and playing four quarters. I think that's the next step."