- Associated Press - Thursday, September 8, 2011

STATE COLLEGE, PA. (AP) - Wrap up the tailback on the tackle. Knock blockers to the ground. Fly to the ball.

They seem like simple directives for a defense. Yet missed tackles plagued Penn State all last season, starting with the 21-point thumping in Tuscaloosa to Alabama in September.

A year later, with the No. 3 Crimson Tide rolling into town this weekend, the 23rd-ranked Nittany Lions vow they have learned from their mistakes.

“I watched last year’s game so many times and I can speak for a lot of guys on the defense,” linebacker Michael Mauti said. “Our performance was kind of embarrassing.”

The goal: avoid a repeat performance.

Alabama’s Trent Richardson, a bruising 5-foot-11 tailback, bowled over the Nittany Lions for 144 yards, accumulating extra ground after escaping would-be tacklers. Penn State had four turnovers, including three inside the 30-yard line, while the Nittany Lions defense couldn’t force one.

One of the points of emphasis for this season for the defense was to create more big plays. It’s not exactly a situation you can re-create in drills, like a zone blitz or an end-around.

“There’s no real to practice that … that comes from effort,” defensive end Jack Crawford said. “Once we take off, do anything. It’s about keeping someone from setting a block. It’s about finishing.”

Penn State is off to a good start so far. As an example, Crawford pointed to defensive tackle Jordan Hill’s recovery of a fumble he forced in the 41-7 win last week over Indiana State.

“It’s plays like that that lead to big-time plays and turnovers,” Crawford said, “which causes everybody to finish the play and get to the ball.”

But stopping Alabama figures to be a much tougher task than manhandling an FCS team like the Sycamores.

Richardson is still a force. Coach Nick Saban this week called his offensive line “inconsistent” in the Tide’s 48-7 win over Kent State, though the front five still features standouts Barrett Jones and William Vlachos.

“They’re a very physical team,” Vlachos said. “I think it played to our advantage playing here last year, it being hot and all. We’re expecting a whole different deal up at their place.”

If there’s any place on the field that the defense can exploit, it might be at quarterback. Alabama is breaking in a two-player tandem in sophomore A.J. McCarron and freshman Phillip Sims to replace last year’s starter, Greg McElroy.

Might Penn State put eight men in the box to stop the running game and force the quarterbacks to beat them?

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