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Raise the Roof: PSU defensive coordinator quiets critics during winning streak

October 17, 2012 - Cory Giger
UNIVERSITY PARK -- Ted Roof didn't have a lot of supporters after Penn State's first two games -- both losses -- but his friend and boss, Bill O'Brien, never lost confidence in the defensive coordinator.

Four games later, the heavy criticism once aimed at Roof has mostly disappeared.

"I don't pay attention to it one way or the other," Roof said of that early criticism. "If you listen to it, you let it affect you if it's good or bad. I base it on what I see on tape."

What he saw on tape the first two games was a defense that couldn't get off the field on third down, and that played a big role in the Nittany Lions losing to Ohio and Virginia. Those teams combined to go 22-of-35 on third down, including 18-of-21 in the second half.

Roof was in a tough situation at that point.

He already had replaced the popular Tom Bradley, whose defenses annually ranked among the nation's best statistically and who many Penn State fans wanted to see named the new head coach.

Instead, the top job went to O'Brien, who hired one of his best friends in Roof to be the new defensive coordinator.

Was Roof qualified, beyond being O'Brien's friend? Would his schemes work at Penn State? Is he even the best defensive coach on the staff, which also includes highly respected line coach Larry Johnson and linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden?

After the two losses, many wondered about Roof's credentials and pointed out he was essentially forced out by coach Gene Chizik at Auburn a year after the team won a national title. Auburn fans criticized Roof's defenses, which ranked 60th nationally in 2010 and 81st last year, and he already had taken a job with another friend of his and O'Brien's, George O'Leary, at Central Florida.

Earlier this season, one of Roof's former players at Auburn, safety Demetruce McNeal, took this verbal jab:

"Last year we weren't coached very well," McNeal said after a 12-10 loss to LSU. "We weren't as smart as players as we are this year with a change on defense. Last year we put on kind of a clown show, a lot of guys not doing their work and not doing their job."

Despite those harsh words and the apparent falling out with Chizik, it turns out Roof wasn't the problem at Auburn. The Tigers rank 78th in total defense this season, allowing 416 yards per game, while PSU is 32nd, giving up 341 per game. (It must be pointed out Auburn has played a much tougher schedule, facing the likes of LSU, Clemson, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Arkansas.)

"It's the media's job to observe and report and make sure they make their own opinions of what's happening on offense and defense," O'Brien said Tuesday when asked about the early criticism aimed at Roof. "But I can tell you that Ted is one of the best defensive coaches that I've ever been around.

"He's a multiple guy, he's an aggressive guy. The players respect him. They love to play for him, and he's done an excellent job."

The numbers, especially on third down, point that out. During the Lions' four-game winning streak, the defense has allowed:

* 15-of-55 third-down conversions (27 percent)

* Just 310 yards of offense per game

* Only 41 points on its own (Northwestern scored 14 more on a 75-yard punt return and after recovering a fumble at the PSU 17)

"When [O'Brien] hired me, he said, 'Here's how I want it to look and then go paint the picture,'" Roof said after the Northwestern game. "That's what our staff has tried to do."

Roof hasn't been able to paint the picture he envisioned.

He's an aggressive defensive coach who likes to play man-to-man coverage and bring a lot of pressure, but Penn State's lack of depth and experience in the secondary have prevented Roof from implementing his entire scheme.

"We've adjusted since the first week of the season," he said. "We've adjusted since that, and it's kind of evolved."

The defensive schemes have been more of a mix and match, Roof added, based on what the players do best. Some coaches will stick with their scheme regardless of if they have the right personal to run it, but Roof doesn't believe in that.

"You've got to evaluate what the strengths of your kids are," he said. "For me to stick this scheme in that doesn't fit what our kids do, that's ridiculous because you're going to get beat and it's going to be bad.

"You figure out what your kids can do, and you work like heck to get really good at it, build an identity, play hard, play fast, play physical and pay your money and take a chance."

The Lions can't get the first two games back and have to live with those losses, but the most important thing to O'Brien is that the defense figured out what it was doing wrong in those games and made adjustments.

"Football is about improvement," O'Brien said. "It's about improvement of players, it's about improvement of coaches, it's about being disciplined, it's about understanding who you're playing, and each game is different. So I think that all of us have shown improvement throughout the year."

O'Brien then didn't hesitate to give his good friend a vote of confidence.

"Ted Roof has done a really good job," he said, "and I'm glad he's here."

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