By TRAVIS JOHNSON Associated Press
Last season was supposed to be a breakout campaign for Adisa Isaac, but Penn State’s top defensive end spent it on the sideline with a busted ankle.
Now he’s back and his coaches and teammates realize the wait was worth it. The 6-foot-4, 243-pounder has upped his snap total each week and is inching closer to being the explosive disruptor he was meant to be.
Isaac had three tackles for loss, including a sack, and two quarterback hurries against Auburn, a game No. 14 Penn State (3-0, 1-0 Big Ten) dominated at the line of scrimmage, winning 41-12. He’ll look to add to his totals when Penn State hosts Central Michigan (1-2) on Saturday.
“He was able to flash and do some really good things and had some splash plays for us,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “But I think you’ll just continue to see him as the year goes on be more consistent.”
The Chippewas are 6-27 all-time against Big Ten teams and haven’t played a team with as many defensive playmakers as Penn State. So far, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has given opposing offenses fits with extra-man pressures. As Isaac has worked his way back, Diaz has dialed up corner, safety and linebacker blitzes regularly.
Cornerback Johnny Dixon leads the team with two sacks and safety Ji’Ayir Brown has one while linebackers and linemen have combined for six others. Isaac wants to contribute more.
“He just adds so much to the defense,” defensive end Nick Tarburton said. “He’s so versatile. I think he’s done a great job of not only in the pass game but also in the run game. He’s been physical and he’s been a great presence.”
Chippewas quarterback Daniel Richardson received some constructive criticism from head coach Jim McElwain two weeks ago after the sophomore completed 22 of 44 passes and took three sacks in a loss to South Alabama. McElwain thought Richardson “held the ball too long” and “didn’t move well in the pocket.”
Richardson still struggled with his completion percentage against Bucknell, but he answered the call for better footwork and a faster release, two things he’ll certainly need against the Nittany Lions.
“They’re a heck of a football team, we’ve got our work cut out for us,” McElwain said.
Franklin didn’t realize how hard quarterback Sean Clifford got hit last week when Auburn defender Owen Pappoe blasted him at midfield on the first drive. Franklin’s eyes initially followed the ball as it bounced loose instead of Clifford, who bounced hard off the turf.
Clifford has shown his toughness before, playing through various ailments, but last Saturday’s example stood out, especially considering how he took over the game after the hit.
“I feel like we’re starting to create an identity as a tough and physical team,” Franklin said. “And I know that may not seem to align with that play, but the way Sean just bounced right back up right after that to me was impressive. He took their best shot and bounced right back up.”
Count running back Devyn Ford among the Nittany Lions looking forward to playing in front of a special group.
Penn State will honor its 1982 national championship team at halftime. Ford, who stuck with the program the past two years even after a handful of backs transferred due to lack of playing time, respects the tradition in Happy Valley too much to look elsewhere.
“I want them to see the same blue-collar Penn State football team that’s been here since this program began,” Ford said. “Mostly, I want them to see the honor, respect for the opponent and the ferocity that we play with and excitement and the attitude. That’s what Penn State brings.”
IN OR OUT?
Penn State running back Keyvone Lee was banged-up last week and is questionable. McElwain expects Chippewas defensive back Trey Jones to return from an unspecified ailment that kept him out last week.