The B1G 10: Penn State DC Manny Diaz doesn't have time for nonsense -- or OSU fans' feelings
1. The B1G Story
Many Diaz found himself in the crosshairs of social media not long ago, a harmless comment about preparation for Ohio State blown out of proportion.
Apparently, this is the m.o. for Ohio State this fall: find someone, anyone, who has wronged the big, bad Buckeyes — and use it as motivation.
Uh, fellas, I‘m pretty sure Michigan fits. In case anyone cares.
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But enough of Ohio State’s odd and desperate search for inspiration, let’s get back to Penn State and Diaz. He was asked by reporters on a conference call if he had any opinion on Ohio State.
“My opinions are absolutely very strong,” Diaz said. “And they’re absolutely going to stay to myself.”
And by the way social media reacted — and thereby, of course, how Ohio State coach Ryan Day inevitably will react (see: Lou Holtz) — you would’ve thought Diaz said Woody Hayes wears stilettos.
This nonsense isn’t going to knock Diaz sideways.
His father, Manny, fled the communist regime in Cuba as a boy in the 1960s and found a home in Miami with Diaz’s grandmother. He preached to his son, over and over: Keep your head down and go to work.
The immigrant’s son started out in the media profession as a production assistant at ESPN, but wanted to coach football. So he took a job at Florida State as a graduate assistant, then another GA job at NC State before getting his first full-time position with the Wolfpack in 2002.
Over the next 20 seasons, the highs and lows of college football, the grind and gut punches, were felt nearly every season. First defensive coordinator job at Middle Tennessee, first big boy job as Texas DC, and first fall guy for a team’s problems (Texas).
First time getting fired (Texas), first redemption job (Louisiana Tech DC) and first return gig (Mississippi State DC). First move back home to Miami as DC, followed by first heading coaching job for all of 18 days (Temple).
Then, the job of jobs: head coach at Miami — where 3 years later, he was the fall guy again. Because every head coach at Miami since Butch Davis has been fired, so why would this be any different?
All of that leading to the job at hand: DC for Penn State, where the Lions have the No. 1 total defense in the nation (193.7 ypg), the No. 1 passing defense (121.2 ypg) and the No. 2 scoring defense (8 ppg) heading into Saturday’s huge showdown at Ohio State.
In 19 games as the Penn State DC, Diaz’s defenses have produced 39 turnovers, 69 sacks and 155 tackles for loss — and have been the backbone of 17 wins.
You think he cares about social media? That’s so 2019, when he hopped on a yacht and sailed down Biscayne Bay flashing the “U” because it was the hip, social media thing to do. Then immediately regretted it.
His job now is stopping Ohio State, one of the few things he hasn’t accomplished in 19 games at Penn State.
Maybe — and this is just a huge reach here — that’s what he was talking about when he said he has “strong feelings” about Ohio State.
The feeling that the defense has to win. Period.
2. The recruiter, the coach
Say what you want about Diaz’s time at Miami — he didn’t do enough, or he wasn’t given enough time — he recruited his tail off in Coral Gables.
And he has done the same at Penn State.
The Lions are loaded on defense with freshman and sophomore difference-makers, including stud LB Abdul Carter, disruptive DT Zane Durant and big-hitting S Kevin Winston Jr.
Upperclassmen have benefitted from Diaz, too. DE Chop Robinson has developed into a 1st round pick — from a 5-star bust at Maryland — under Diaz, and Edge Adisa Isaac has developed into a potential Day 1 pick. The secondary has been among the best in college football the last 2 seasons.
Penn State went from a strong defense under former DC and current Virginia Tech head coach Brent Pry to an elite unit under Diaz that was evident almost from Day 1 — with 2 exceptions.
The Lions gave up 85 points combined to Michigan and Ohio State in the only 2 losses of 2022. The Ohio State game, in State College, was particularly galling.
Penn State led 21-16 with 9 minutes to play in the 4th quarter, before Ohio State scored 28 points in the next 7 minutes. One of those scores was a defensive touchdown, and another came on a short field after a Penn State turnover. But that still leaves Diaz on the hook for 14 of those points.
So yeah, forgive Diaz if he’s not caught up in the social media drama. He has to scheme for a quarterback who hasn’t thrown an interception since Week 1 (more on that later) and an offense full of Day 1 and Day 2 NFL Draft picks.
3. Redemption, The Epilogue
It’s not that difficult to connect the dots. If Penn State has another big season defensively, Diaz will again become a hot name in the head coaching hopper.
He doesn’t want to talk about it, and earlier this summer declared: “Being the defensive coordinator at Penn State is a better job than being the head coach at a lot of different schools.”
He’ll be picky, there’s little doubt of that. He has seen how the big-job programs chew up and spit out coaches, and have little patience for those who can’t win big right away.
Don’t expect him to take a Group of 5 job, or any other where there’s little chance to win big and reach the new expanded 12-team Playoff beginning in 2024.
Who knows what Miami would’ve done had the Playoff been a 12-team format in 2021? Who knows how other Power 5 programs will react to the new Playoff — if it will lead to more or less patience.
But if Penn State continues to play at a high level defensively, and if the Lions can beat Ohio State or Michigan (or both), Diaz may be able to name his job.
4. The nightmare scenario
I don’t want to be the guy who has to say it, but Iowa is a lot closer to reaching the Playoff than it is to reaching 325 points to (allegedly) save OC Brian Ferentz’s job.
The B1G West is, in a word, horrific. Iowa can not only win the division by completing a handful of passes a game, it can win out and advance to the Big Ten Championship Game at 11-1.
Beating the East Division champion — Michigan, Ohio State or Penn State — would be a tall order. But injuries happen and teams play tight in big games and with a few turnovers, who knows what happens in a game where it’s winner take all.
It can’t be much more difficult than winning 11 games without a functioning passing game.
5. The Weekly 5
Five games against the spread.
Penn State (+4.5) at Ohio State
Minnesota at Iowa (-4.5)
Wisconsin at Illinois (+3)
Northwestern at Nebraska (-12.5)
Michigan (-23.5) at Michigan State
Last week: 2-3.
6. Your tape is your resume
An NFL scout analyzes a draft eligible Big Ten player. This week: Michigan WR Roman Wilson.
“The tools are there. He’s long and surprisingly strong, and is the fastest guy on the field. Can he further develop at this level? Because you’re not coaching the suddenness he has, or the explosion out of breaks. That stuff is rare. But can he be consistent in the little things that allow you to play at this level? He has highpoint skills on those 50-50 balls, but what about 1st and 2nd level throws where he has to fight to gain separation — and catch the ball?”
7. Powered Up
This week’s Power Poll, and 1 big thing.
1. Michigan: Are these games boring and predictable because Michigan is so good, or because the opponents are so bad?
2. Ohio State: QB Kyle McCord has thrown 158 consecutive passes without an interception. His last, and only, interception this year was in Week 1 on a 4th-and-2 when he threw across his body and over the middle late against Indiana.
3. Penn State: The offense is humming, and QB Drew Allar is playing with confidence. But it’s a completely different problem that awaits in Columbus.
4. Iowa: One positive to Iowa’s truly horrific offense: P Tory Taylor is getting more attention. He’s a field position weapon. It’s not just flipping the field with long punts (he’s averaging 48.3 yards), it’s 18 punts inside the 20.
5. Maryland: How do the Terps respond to the most disappointing loss in coach Mike Locksley’s 5 seasons? The bye week will help, but the schedule gets more difficult in November.
6. Wisconsin: This is still, potentially, a 9-win team. The Badgers will have the better roster in all but 1 game (Ohio State) over the 2nd half of the season.
7. Rutgers: I don’t know what to make of this team. And frankly, Greg Schiano probably doesn’t, ether. But 1 more win (this week at Indiana?) secures a bowl game for 1st time since 2014 (I don’t count the 5-7 team’s gift bowl in 2021).
8. Northwestern: Reaching 6 wins and bowl eligibility isn’t out of the equation, which considering where this season began, is remarkable. At Nebraska this week is one of those potential wins.
9. Minnesota: The turning point of the season: at Iowa. The Hawkeyes can’t throw the ball, but won’t give ground. Can Minnesota be patient on offense and avoid turnovers — which lead to short fields for the Iowa offense.
10. Nebraska: These are the games that 1st-year coach Matt Rhule simply can’t lose. The loss to Northwestern last year was the beginning of the end for Scott Frost at Nebraska.
11. Purdue: Perfect timing for the bye week. The Boilers have 4 winnable games out of the remaining 5. They also could lose all 5.
12. Illinois: Maybe it finally all clicked for Illinois in last week’s upset of Maryland. The Illini played a complete game, and the defense finally found ways to get off the field on 3rd down.
13. Indiana: So Michigan wasn’t exactly a fair assessment of new OC Rod Carey. They’ll get a better idea of where the offense is this week against Rutgers, which has given up 81 points in the 6 games outside a 31-7 loss to Michigan.
14. Michigan State: QB Katin Houser didn’t play that badly last week against Rutgers, despite the late Michigan State meltdown that gave Rutgers a win. The ball has to go downfield more, and the staff has to trust the strong-armed redshirt freshman.
8. Ask and you shall receive
Matt: Are the problems with the Wisconsin offense coach or player related? I don’t know how much more I can handle. — Gregory Wilson, Milwaukee.
It’s a little of both, but I’ll lean more on the quarterback. When you don’t have an accurate thrower in the Air Raid system, you’re not going to convert third downs and the offense will look clunky.
The question: Why was Tanner Mordecai — prior to breaking a bone in his throwing hand last week — playing so poorly (3 TDs, 3 INTs) after producing 2 huge seasons in the same offense at SMU? The step up in competition (and defensive playmakers) is certainly part of the problem.
But Mordecai also has better skill players around him at Wisconsin than he did at SMU. The offensive lines are similar. He should have been playing well. So the question then moves to comprehension.
Is there something between what OC Phil Longo is teaching and how Mordecai was executing? Maybe we’ll learn more in the 2nd half of the season when Mississippi State transfer Braedyn Locke takes over.
The late Mike Leach had high hopes for Locke at Mississippi State, and Locke left for Wisconsin after Leach suddenly passed away last December.
3. Lost amid the constant QB Kyle McCord assessment at Ohio State is the play of the Buckeyes’ defense. A loaded group with double-digit NFL Draft picks (2024 and beyond), the Buckeyes are No. 3 in the nation in scoring defense (9.7 ppg).
The 2 teams they trail: Michigan (6.7 ppg) and Penn State (8.0). Maybe, just maybe, we get an old school slugfest Saturday in Columbus — where the 1st team to score twice wins.
10. Quote to note
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh: “Guys are playing for each other. Work together, you win together, as Katie Harbaugh came up with a quote to put on my quote board. ‘Work together, win together’ is my new favorite quote on my quote board.”