Penn State Bye Week Report Card Grades: Defense

By RLR Staff on October 14, 2021 at 8:30 am
Sep 11, 2021; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions linebacker Jesse Luketa (40) celebrates with his teammates after intercepting the ball and scoring a touchdown during the third quarter against the Ball State Cardinals at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Ball State 44-13. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports
© Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State is now halfway through its regular-season slate having played six games this season. Yesterday we handed out grades on the offensive side of the football. Today, let's cover the defense.

Defensive ends

Ankit: A+. Wow. Who saw that coming headed into the season? Arnold Ebiketie made himself a fan favorite in week one and hasn't really slowed down since. Jesse Luketa deserves special praise for his high level of play and overall commitment to making the team better. Nick Tarburton has made his presence known at times subbing in. I love these guys.

Nick: A. Arnold Ebiketie has been far better than we could have imagined, and the emergence of Jesse Luketa on the edge has been a joy to watch. Nick Tarburton has done a nice job, as well.

Matt Flip: A. AK and Jesse Luketa have been great, while Tarburton has given them great reps. For what this unit could have been, this has been one of the best surprises.

Defensive tackles

Ankit: A. The boys in the trenches have played exceptionally well up to this point. Mustipher played like a pro before picking up his injury, Tangelo has been a pleasant surprise, and Ellies has come along strong. 

Nick: A. This will surely drop with Mustipher's injury, but to this point, this unit has been awesome. Mustipher played like a top-round NFL pick, and Derrick Tangelo, like Ebiketie, has exceeded expectations. Even Dvon Ellies and Coziah Izzard have performed well in lesser capacities.

Matt Flip: A+. I adore what PJ Mustipher, Tangelo, and Ellies have given this team. Izzard showed some flashes against Iowa so this unit is way deeper than I expected.


Ankit: A-. Not much to dissect with this one. These guys have done everything they've been asked of and more. Brandon Smith still has his moments but has shown tremendous growth this season. 

Nick: A. Ellis Brooks has become a monster. The game is moving at half the speed it was a year ago for Brandon Smith. Curtis Jacobs just played his best game as a Nittany Lion. What a superbly fun trio.

Matt Flip: A-. Ellis Brooks hive. Brandon Smith and Curtis Jacobs have gotten better as the season has gone on.


Ankit: A. This group has been dominant, and much of that has to do with the brilliance of Joey Porter Jr. What he is able to provide in both the passing and running game is truly a joy to watch. TCF and Hardy have been solid.

Nick: A. Yeah, I'm just going to continue handing out A's. Joey Porter Jr. is a star. Tariq Castro-Fields isn't quite as good but has still been playing at a very high level. Daequan Hardy is the slot cornerback they've been looking for for years.

Matt Flip: A-. Joey Porter Jr. is a pro. I’m a DaeQuan Hardy Stan as well. TCF just doesn’t look like his old self in pass coverage but I like what he’s done in run support.


Ankit: A+. Best safety tandem in the country? I think so.

Nick: A. A's all around, folks! Jaquan Brisker plays like what Seahawks fans want Jamal Adams to play like. Ji'Ayir Brown is becoming one of the best safeties in football and barely anyone is noticing. What a defense this is, man.

Matt Flip: A+. There’s no other way to grade this unit. Brisker and Brown are studs. I’ll also throw Sutherland in here for his contributions to the defense as a whole.

Special Teams

Ankit: B. They haven't lost them a game, they haven't won them a game. That's how this category works.

Nick: B+. If Stout's field goal kicking has been figured out, I'm cool with this being an A based on his punting, kickoffs, and the return game. While those missed early field goals didn't affect the final outcomes, he needs to figure it out going forward (and for the record, it seems like he may have already).

Matt Flip: B. No huge returns yet and shaky kicking lower the grade but Stout rules as a punter. He deserves the world.

Let us know your grades in the comments.