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James Franklin fires back over concerns about the Penn State pass rush

Since Saturday’s win at Illinois, concerns have emerged about the Penn State pass rush. But Tuesday, James Franklin fired back on the notion that the pass rush hasn’t ben up to the standard this year.



Penn State football, James Franklin, Dani Dennis-Sutton, Chop Robinson, Adisa Isaac
Penn State head football coach James Franklin yells during warmups at Beaver Stadium September 2, 2023, in State College.

Looks can sometimes be deceiving. The numbers tell us that Penn State football has a top-25 defense in almost every major statistical category this season. However, the eye test has told some that the Nittany Lions haven’t played the caliber of defense needed to compete for a Big Ten title or College Football Playoff berth. Much of this ire has been directed toward the Penn State front four through three games. During his weekly Tuesday press conference, head coach James Franklin fired back at concerns that Penn State pass rushers Chop Robinson, Dani Dennis-Sutton, and Adisa Isaac, and the whole defensive front, haven’t played to the standard in 2023.

Is there a problem with the Penn State defense?

Statistically, Penn State football has one of the best defenses in America through three games this season. The Nittany Lions are in the top 25 of almost every major statistical category, including passing (21), scoring (13), third down (18), and total (16) defense. Rushing defense sits just outside this margin at No. 33 nationally. Even red-zone defense, the only glaring flaw at No. 109, is based on just four opponent attempts through three games.

However, the outside narrative on the Penn State defense has been different. Questions have been raised over the defensive line’s ability to effectively stop the run against teams like Ohio State and Michigan.

While the defense excelled last week at Illinois, new questions about the Penn State pass rush have emerged. The Nittany Lions forced four interceptions and four sacks on Saturday. But there was limited production from Penn State’s edge rushers, with Adisa Isaac only forcing 0.5 sacks.

Overall, Penn State ranks No. 16 nationally with 10 sacks on the year. But outside of Isaac, freshman Jameial Lyons is the only other edge rusher to record a sack. Chop Robinson and Dani Dennis-Sutton are absent from the stat line.

James Franklin fires back over concerns about the Penn State pass rush

During his weekly Tuesday press conference, Penn State football coach James Franklin was asked about the lack of production from the pass rush, specifically that of Chop Robinson, Adisa Isaac, and Dani Dennis-Sutton. Franklin’s response pushed back on the narrative, noting that the pass rush impacted the game in other ways.

“Yeah, I think we’re playing really good team defense,” he said. “Typically what happens is, the five turnovers, most of them are a result of quarterbacks getting the ball out of your hands quicker.”

“Typically, you’re going to have one or the other; you’re going to have sacks or turnovers,” Franklin continued. “…I think our defense understands and respects, and I know our DBs respect the fact, that most of those turnovers came at a result of pressuring the quarterback.”

“Again, for us, it’s about what do we have to do to win games. Sometimes that’s going to equate to gaudy statistics at one position or another. We’ll come in another week, and you’re saying we had six sacks, but we didn’t have any interceptions. ‘Why not?'”

Doing what it takes to win

Much like a similar question earlier in the press conference regarding the lack of explosive plays from the Penn State running game, Franklin took the question about Chop Robinson, Adisa Isaac, and Dani Dennis-Sutton as an opportunity to emphasize that the only stat that matters in the end is winning.

“Do we want a perfect game where we have it all at the end? Yes,” Franklin said. “But I think our coaches and our defense do a good job of talking about and explaining and respecting what it takes to win. The stats are usually used to reinforce what it takes to win or areas that we need to improve; it’s not about the stats as an end all, be all.”

Franklin went on to explain that his staff reiterates the importance of team success over individual glory. “It’s just a fine line for us,” he said. “For us, we want to play good, sound, clean football. If the stats come with that, great. If not, again, back to the statement I made earlier. With team success comes individual recognition.”

Penn State football returns to action Saturday night against No. 24 Iowa in the annual White Out game.

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Matt is a co-owner and Editor in Chief of Basic Blues Nation. Launched in 2022, Basic Blues Nation is one of the fastest-growing websites covering all Penn State athletics, with over 3.5 million readers in 2023. Matt is also a credentialed member of the Penn State football beat, and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.


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