November 04, 2015

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Bob Shoop flipped through the channels in a hotel room recently and settled quickly on college football.

But as Penn State's defensive coordinator watched No. 2 Baylor and West Virginia batter each other for 100 combined points and nearly 1,200 yards, he had an odd thought. What the Bears and Mountaineers were doing on offense looked like ''a totally different sport.''

''I don't even know what those things are right there,'' Shoop said. ''I think you can make the case that being a defensive coordinator in college football is one of the most challenging jobs in all of sports today because of that - the things that you need to be able to prepare for and it is part of the fun of it.''

From running quarterbacks to spread looks to pro-style passing attacks to Army's triple-option, Shoop's had to scheme against something different almost each week this season, his second after leading a defensive renaissance in Happy Valley last fall.

It's kept the Oakmont, Pennsylvania native on his toes while his defense has kept Penn State (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten) in every game thus far.

''There's a difference between playing well and playing winning football,'' Shoop said. ''For the most part, this unit's done a good job playing winning football.''

That's what he calls it when his defense allows 466 yards to Maryland but clinches a 31-30 road win with two sacks, a forced fumble and two interceptions in the fourth quarter.

''That was one of the best wins I've ever been a part of,'' Shoop said. ''That's legit. Boy, we did what we had to do to win that one.''

And Shoop knows Penn State might have to use the same strategy this weekend against Northwestern (6-2, 2-2 Big Ten).

Although Penn State notched its first shutout under Shoop by dominating Illinois last week, the Wildcats offer an entirely different approach than the Fighting Illini's pocket-based, vertical passing system that played right into Penn State's pass rush.

Northwestern's Clayton Thorson isn't one of those quarterbacks.

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound freshman is second on the team with 297 yards on 64 carries. His ability to keep the ball has come in handy in the red zone where he's scored four of his five rushing touchdowns.

''They're a pain, the way they can just extend plays,'' safety Malik Golden said. ''It's just tough to really handle a mobile quarterback, but I'm pretty sure we've got this one.''

Golden's confidence comes from Shoop.

The Yale graduate has already become something of a legend among his players. He's done it with his quirky personality, dry sense of humor and uncanny ability to see things before they happen.

Coach James Franklin has told stories about Shoop - who coaches from the press box - calling down to the field to predict the upcoming play. Each time, Franklin says he's speechless.

Before the Rutgers game last season, Shoop predicted that Penn State would force five turnovers. It happened. Shoop did the same before the Maryland game and he was correct again. He said in April that former walk-on defensive end Carl Nassib, who never started at any level before this season, would have an ''All-Big Ten caliber year.'' Nassib is one sack away from the school record and leads the country with 14 1/2.

''Sometimes I ask myself why I don't predict more?'' Shoop said.

But his soothsaying isn't his best attribute when it comes to developing players.

Shoop's willingness to throw them into action right away is what endears him to them. Take sophomore safety Marcus Allen for example. He started his first game last season against Ohio State in prime time and was sent on a blitz almost immediately. He's one of three underclassmen, along with linebackers Jason Cabinda and Troy Reeder, Shoop uses most in his pressure schemes.

''I think one thing he does so well is he believes in guys before they are even capable of believing in themselves,'' Cabinda said.

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