STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) - As Amani Oruwariye turned to celebrate his first pick-six with his teammates last Saturday, the Penn State cornerback asked if they had heard the stadium announcer’s call and if his name had been pronounced correctly.
Fellow corner Grant Haley nailed it on Tuesday.
“It’s Uh-mahn-ee Oh-rue-war-ee-aye,” Haley said.
And it’s become the latest name opponents will have to be wary of when testing Penn State’s deep secondary. It’s a group made up of players talented enough to avoid redshirts when they arrived as freshmen. Now, Penn State’s defense is reaping the benefits of their experience, specifically a handful of gritty cornerbacks, including John Reid and Christian Campbell, who don’t shy away from contact.
“We have four quality guys that I think are all playing at a high level,” cornerbacks coach Terry Smith said. “I’m really happy with all of their progress. I’m really excited for the challenge this weekend for those guys and all four are going to play a lot of football.”
The next challenge comes at Heinz Field against a Pittsburgh team looking for someone to emerge to replace dynamic wideout Tyler Boyd. Penn State’s corners are determined to ensure the Panthers’ search continues past week two.
Pittsburgh showed little offensive variance in a quiet opening win over Villanova. The Panthers are a run-first team that uses a tight end rather than spread defenses out with four-receiver sets. Running back James Conner is much more nimble than his 250-pound frame would suggest and can dance around defenders just as easily as he can run over them.
Penn State’s corners are ready to help at the line where the Nittany Lions could be without end Evan Schwan, who left last week’s game with an ankle injury. Playing three new starters up front, the Nittany Lion front four looked susceptible when they weren’t sacking Kent State’s quarterbacks.
But corners Haley, Campbell, Reid and Oruwariye helped limit running plays when they could.
The foursome combined for nine of their 10 tackles in run support and often closed the gap quickly or angled off ballcarriers before they could do serious damage. Reid, who played most of his snaps at the nickel, had to make one tackle from behind after a 16-yard gain, but Kent State averaged just half a yard on running plays where corners made the stops.
“I think we definitely worked on tackling in the off-season, because I knew it was one of the things we needed to work on last year, open-field tackling,” Haley said. “I think it’s just the things you work on in practice, the little details, wrapping up, just being physical, flying to the ball, taking good angles. I think we took that more seriously and it translated to the field.”
They’ll have to be ready for Pitt’s Jordan Whitehead, too.
While the Panthers didn’t call the defensive back’ number on offense last week, Penn State is expecting a healthy dose of the shifty playmaker, especially on the perimeter.
“Jordan Whitehead will play offense against us, I don’t think there’s any doubt about that,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “So we’ve spent a lot of time looking at the fly sweep, how we’re going to defend the fly sweep.”
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