Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

October 23, 2018 at 9:21 pm.

Nittany Lions wary of Iowa’s tight ends

Jan Johnson has taken on numerous roles as a Penn State athlete, but none will be as critical as the one he’ll play on Saturday against Iowa.

Johnson, a former walk-on linebacker who also wrestled for the university, will lead No. 17 Penn State’s defense as it looks to slow down No. 18 Iowa’s hard-charging offense led by two tight ends who’ll likely match up with Johnson and his fellow linebackers.

Johnson played tight end on the scout team last season as he was rehabbing a torn ACL and Penn State (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten) will need him to employ his knowledge of the position in defending TJ Hockenson and Noah Fant to prevent another lackluster showing on defense.

Penn State defenders know that slowing both big tight ends will likely be crucial if the Nittany Lions are to keep their outside shot at a Big Ten championship alive.

“Fant may be the best receiving tight end in the country,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “Hockenson does a really good job (both blocking and receiving). He’s extremely physical. He’s nasty but makes a bunch of plays for them and brings the mentality to their offense.”

As Iowa’s offense has found its stride in recent weeks, the Nittany Lions have found that it’s a challenge to play high-level defense for the full duration of games. They’re still searching for ways to clean up their defensive play as they’ve allowed 670 of 1,588 yards and six of 11 touchdowns in the fourth quarters of games this season.

Late lapses spoiled games against Ohio State and Michigan State and nearly led to another collapse against Indiana a week ago. But Penn State’s pass rush stepped up to stymie the Hoosiers late with defensive end Shaka Toney turning in four sacks in the final five minutes.

“It’s definitely a good feeling being in the win column,” Penn State cornerback Amani Oruwariye said.

“We know who’s coming into our stadium. We know what they’re capable of doing. We played a four-quarter game with them last year. We’re expecting them to come out and give us their best effort, but I think we’ll be ready.”