Penn State’s secondary continues elite play over Maryland despite no Joey Porter Jr.
This season, Penn State’s secondary has been amongst the nation's best, allowing just 219 passing yards per game.
However, when the Nittany Lions took the field on Saturday against Maryland, star cornerback Joey Porter Jr wasn’t in uniform.
The blue and white have several injuries, including linebacker Curtis Jacobs and tackle Olu Fashanu, but Porter Jr’s., absence came as a shock to most.
“Joey Porter was not available tonight, and that was a non-football injury situation that we’re working through,” James Franklin said. “I just want to be very, very clear with that, so everybody knows. Hopefully, we’ll have Joey back soon.”
After recording five pass breakups in 2021, Porter Jr. has burst onto the scene in his redshirt junior campaign, tallying 11 pass breakups in just nine games thus far.
Maryland came into the contest as one of the most pass-heavy offenses in the country, so not having Porter Jr. appeared to be a big loss for Penn State.
Despite not having the Bakersfield, California, native, the blue and white secondary kept up its elite play and held the Terrapins to just 74 yards in a 30-0 victory.
“I felt like we just played complementary football today,” sophomore corner Kalen King said. “We were just clicking. Everybody was disciplined, flying around.”
King noted that cornerbacks coach Terry Smith preaches the “next-man-up mentality,” and that mentality proved key as the secondary didn't skip a beat without Porter Jr.
“Even when someone is not with us, we’re next man up,” King said. “We’re always going to be good. There’s no drop-off.”
King mentioned that Porter Jr.'s absence from Saturday’s game didn’t change his preparation and knew he had to step up.
King jumped from CB2 to CB1, while junior Johnny Dixon, who has seen action in all 10 games in 2022, started alongside King.
This was the first time the duo had started together this campaign, but it wasn’t an issue as King mentioned their chemistry was growing.
“We both came on campus at the same time. Since then, we’ve just been competing against each other,” King said. “We’ve been building a relationship with one another.”
Penn State had six pass breakups against Maryland, and three came from King and Dixon.
King’s two pass breakups on the night pushed him into the team lead over Porter Jr., now with 13 on the season.
Despite not taking the field, Porter Jr. left his mark on the contest by turning into a coach on the sidelines.
After every series, Porter Jr. went over to King and the rest of the corners, helping them better recognize the plays Maryland was running and giving them tips from what he saw on the sideline.
“When I am out there, he will describe the receivers and what they are giving them on the other side,” King said. “So when I see them, I know what to expect.”
Porter Jr. has turned himself into one of the nation's best corners and is projected to be selected in the first round of this year's NFL draft.
Before he leaves to go play on Sundays, Porter Jr. wants to ensure the next generation of Penn State corners is in good hands.
“Joey is like a brother,” King said. “He is always looking out for us. If he has something that he can add as far as pointers on anything, he’s willing to tell us. He is willing to tell us what he sees if we don’t see it. He’s just a big piece of that room.”
With Porter Jr. not playing, Penn State rotated corners throughout the game, with junior Marquis Wilson getting significant playing time, and when the lead grew to 30, true freshman Cam Miller made an appearance.
King noted that consistently rotating players this season has helped the younger corners grow and play in spots without their top guy.
“They deliver for us,” King said. “They make plays for us. I feel like anybody you put in out of our corner room is going to be ready to play when they’re out there.”
After having six pass breakups against Maryland, Penn State has 69 pass breakups this season, which leads the FBS.
Even without Porter Jr., the Nittany Lion corners continued to do what they have done all season, and King said it wouldn't be possible without trust.
“We played together, and I feel like anytime we play together, like the back seven, we play with each other,” King said. “When we play with confidence, it’s gonna be hard to beat us.”
Alex Rocco is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.