Penn State's secondary struggles

Iowa running back Tyler Goodson, left, pushes Penn State safety Jaquan Brisker on a run during the first quarter of Saturday’s game in State College.

Statistically, Jaquan Brisker’s 2020 campaign was about as solid as he could want.

Brisker started all nine games at safety for Penn State, leading the team with seven pass breakups. He also finished third on the Nittany Lions with 57 tackles.

Brisker received conference and national accolades as Pro Football Focus tabbed him as a first-team All-American, and Big Ten coaches selected him to their third-team ballot.

Individual accolades aside, Brisker was far from pleased with the Nittany Lions’ 4-5 season, which included the first 0-5 start in program history.

“I felt like I couldn’t leave when I knew I had more to give to this program,” Brisker said.

“It was very personal. I didn’t want to leave on a bad note.

“I knew what type of team we were going to have when I came back, so I figured I might as well come back and do it the right way.”

In January, Brisker announced his return for another season, accepting the NCAA’s offer of an extra year of eligibility offered to student-athletes as relief from the coronavirus pandemic.

Brisker’s return was part of a package deal.

Penn State cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields and wide receiver Jahan Dotson also returned for another year in Happy Valley.

The idea, Brisker said, was born during a FaceTime call.

“We FaceTime, and we talked and things like that, and basically we just told ourselves we’re going to come back, and this will be better than what we did last year,” Brisker said. “We’re coming back for a reason. We have a chip on our shoulder. We’re going to bring back the normal. We can set the standard (with) how we did last year.”

Penn State hired Anthony Poindexter to replace Tim Banks as safeties coach/co-defensive coordinator after Banks left to become the defensive coordinator at Tennessee.

A former two-time All-American safety at Virginia, Poindexter brings a wealth of knowledge to the defensive coaching staff. Brisker said he’s enjoyed his early experiences working with Poindexter, and he has a couple of ways he hopes to enhance his game this season.

“I feel like I could get better on capitalizing on the ball,” Brisker said. “I feel like I had some drops in the beginning of the year, and I feel like I can get better in those areas. … I think I could be better moving around and showing my versatility more this year.”

Brisker’s return gives Penn State the comfort of having an all-Big Ten talent on the field as the Nittany Lions look to fare far better in 2021. His decision to return also gives Penn State an example of leadership that is congruent with the culture the program has established.

“He’s a beautiful kid,” Poindexter said of Brisker. “He has a lot to gain. He probably wasn’t (projected to go) in the round he wanted to be in (in the NFL draft), but at the same time, I think he’s coming back for all the right reasons. He loves his teammates. He wants to be a college player again. Being around this kid, he’s been awesome. He has no ego. He’s humble. He wants to learn. He’s always asking me questions. I’m excited to coach him.”

Elton Hayes covers Penn State for CNHI LLC publications. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.

Elton Hayes is a veteran sports writer who covers Penn State for CNHI LLC publications. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.


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