Stephon Morris calls it the "Roadrunner" package.
Senior cornerback Stephon Morris likes what he's seen from freshman DaQuan Davis.
On a few third-down plays last week, Penn State's defense threw a twist at Temple's offense. Cornerback Adrian Amos moved back to free safety, replacing Malcolm Willis, and freshman DaQuan Davis came in and took Amos' spot at corner. Mike Hull, as he has on several other third downs this season, took over for Glenn Carson at middle linebacker.
The idea, Morris said Wednesday, is to get more speed on the field and help the Nittany Lions avoid what they call "X" plays -- big gains, usually of the passing variety, by opponents that move the chains on third down. Even after holding the Owls to just three third-down conversions in 12 chances Saturday, Penn State still ranks last in the Big Ten in that category.
The defense is getting off the field more often, though, and it is doing so with different personnel groups. And the Roadrunner group might help the Nittany Lions make a transition to a look they haven't shown much of yet.
"It just gives us confidence that when we do go nickel, DaQuan can help us a lot," Morris said.
Penn State has used a nickel package (five defensive backs, three linebackers) on just one snap this season under new defensive coordinator Ted Roof. But Morris, a veteran cornerback who knows the offenses of the Big Ten well, believes that when the Nittany Lions take on teams like Northwestern, which commonly use three- and four-wide receiver sets, the nickel will become a bigger part of the defense.
And that will likely mean more time on the field for Davis, who is listed at 5-foot-10, 161 pounds and, said Morris, shares the senior's "little man complex."
"He's humble. You can tell he's been through a lot in his lifetime," Morris said. "He's always around me, around Coach (John) Butler, asking questions. He's definitely ready whenever his name is called."
Morris has had a solid season to this point. He's fifth on the team with 20 tackles (13 solo stops) and said Wednesday he hasn't missed a tackle yet this season. Like Davis, the 5-foot-8 Morris often gives up several inches to the receiver he is covering and has to make adjustments because of that. Against Temple, for example, he broke up a long pass down the sideline by reading the receiver instead of turning and finding the ball.
"Every time they throw a fade route, it's probably a bigger receiver," Morris said. "I definitely have to play to the hands. I'm not going to win a jumping game. The best way for me to play it is to read his hands and to read his eyes, and that just goes to my technique."
The Nittany Lions have given up an average of 130 yards passing and one passing touchdown over the last two weeks after allowing an average of 293.5 yards and four passing touchdowns in the first two games. Morris has said each week that the secondary still has a lot to prove and a long way to go but believes it will continue to improve.
He Tweeted earlier this week about being on campus and overhearing students put down the defensive backfield and was asked if that made him angry.
"You can play this game angry but you won't get nowhere," he said. "It's definitely motivation, though."
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