Penn State defense overwhelmed by Ole Miss tempo and ‘too many moving parts’ in Peach Bowl loss

Mississippi defensive tackle JJ Pegues (89) celebrates against Penn State during the second half of the Peach Bowl NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 30, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

ATLANTA — The much-anticipated showdown between Mississippi’s up-tempo offense and Penn State’s proud defense lived up to the hype — but only for one half.

Ultimately, the Ole Miss pace was too much for the Nittany Lions.


The No. 11 Rebels led only 20-17 at halftime before scoring the first 18 points of the second half in Saturday’s 38-25 Peach Bowl win.

Penn State gave up a season-high 540 yards while also allowing the most points in a game this season. It was a humbling loss for the Nittany Lions, who led the nation with their average of 223 yards allowed.

Penn State coach James Franklin said his defense made enough big plays early to prevent the Rebels from establishing their desired up-tempo pace.

“So the tempo is challenging early on in the game, where we were able to get negative plays, takes them out of their rhythm,” Franklin said. “But obviously when they’re able to play with tempo and have positive plays and build on it, it is difficult to stop.”

The pace of the Ole Miss offense made it especially important for the Nittany Lions to communicate well, both on the field and between players and coaches. That process was complicated by changes on the Penn State staff after defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was hired as Duke’s coach on Dec. 7.

On Dec. 19, Franklin hired former Indiana coach Tom Allen as the new defensive coordinator. Allen was with the team as an observer for the bowl. Assistants Anthony Poindexter and Robb Smith served as co-coordinators against Penn State.

“The main thing for me, and a lot of guys will say the same, getting the play and make sure we’re on the same page,” said safety Kevin Winston Jr. “When we’re doing hurry up, a lot of guys are just getting up from making a tackle or whatever they were doing on the play. We want to have our cleats set and be on the same page, and sometimes hurry up causes disruption with that.”

The Nittany Lions were without defensive end Chop Robinson and cornerbacks Kalen King and Johnny Dixon, who turned their focus to preparing for the NFL draft. Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said the obvious strategy was to attack the fill-in starting cornerbacks.

“If you watch their game plan, they went after some guys that had not played a ton of football for us this year, and it will be a great learning opportunity for those guys and for us moving forward,” Franklin said. “… Too many moving parts, staff and players, to have the type of success that we wanted to have today.”

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