If everything in his career had gone according to plan, Manny Diaz would have been in Philadelphia on Saturday coaching his hometown Miami Hurricanes against Temple.
Of course, life’s not that simple.
Instead, he was at Beaver Stadium directing Penn State’s superb defensive effort in a 31-0 rout of Iowa.
Days after Miami fired Diaz in December 2021, James Franklin swooped in and hired him as the Nittany Lions defensive coordinator. The Hurricanes’ loss was Penn State’s gain, a big gain.
Diaz continues to show why he’s one of the nation’s best assistant coaches.
The Lions held the Hawkeyes to four first downs, 76 total yards, 20 rushing yards and a mere 33 snaps and handed them their first shutout loss since 2000, a span of 288 games.
Diaz added a few wrinkles to a defense that a week earlier produced five turnovers in a Big Ten road win against Illinois.
He used four linebackers at times against Iowa’s Dark Ages offense. He put defensive ends Chop Robinson, Adisa Isaac and Dani Dennis-Sutton on the field at the same time in a four-man front.
“When we do one-on-ones against the offensive linemen in practice,” Robinson said, “sometimes my coach (defensive line coach Deion Barnes) will put me as a nose tackle or a defensive tackle just to see how it works. So once I got out there, I felt it was a good thing.
“Having me, Dani and Adisa on the field at the same time, it’s unstoppable. It’s hard to block one of us because if one of us slides to one side, the other side is going to be open. It worked for us.”
Iowa picked up a first down in each of its first two possessions and then didn’t have a gain longer than 4 yards on its next six series. By then, it was 31-0 in the fourth quarter and Hawkeyes offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz was trying to figure out where his next job might be.
After smothering Iowa, Penn State ranks first in the FBS in total defense (219.5 yards per game), passing defense (138.0 yards per game) and pass defense efficiency and is fourth in scoring defense (8.8 points per game).
Since Diaz arrived, the Lions have held 14 of 17 opponents to 21 points or less, including the last nine.
“He’s creative,” Dennis-Sutton said. “You see in his defense that we have so many different things. We have drops. We have stunts. Sometimes we’re just straight going. Sometimes we take the receiver. We have a lot of different things that Coach Manny does and it’s fun.”
Diaz usually appears calm on the sideline, but Saturday night was different. He was furious when he saw premier cornerback Kalen King on the sideline when Iowa had third-and-9 on its first series and asked Franklin to call a timeout.
A few minutes later, several Penn State defenders crept towards the line of scrimmage on a second-and-10, prompting the Hawkeyes to call a timeout. Diaz reacted by jumping in the air and pumping his fist.
“Manny’s doing a great job,” Franklin said. “He has done a really good job of coming in and embracing our culture and how we do things .He also has brought his own perspective. The staff has a ton of respect for him. Our players have a ton of respect for him.”
The Lions are very talented and very deep at all three levels of the defense, so nobody stands out. As a result, no Penn State player ranks among the top 25 in the Big Ten in tackles, tackles for loss, sacks or interceptions.
Linebacker Curtis Jacobs was the Lions’ leading tackler against Iowa with three. He’s their top tackler for the season with 15. He recovered two fumbles Saturday to take the conference lead in that category.
“Not just one guy made all the plays tonight,” Isaac said. “They were sprinkled around to everybody, especially around the D-line. It shows we’re not a one-man show.”
The one man guiding the Penn State defense has been brilliant since his arrival. Ohio State and Michigan each scored at least 41 points against the Lions last season. Those games, though, have been the outliers for Diaz’s time with the Lions.
“Manny’s doing a great job from a big-picture leadership perspective,” Franklin said, “and also getting everybody to really understand how to play defensive football and what it takes.
“We’re fortunate and blessed that he and his family are with us.”
Source: Berkshire mont