Backup Linebackers Instrumental In Close Temple Win
Penn State announced prior to its noon kickoff against Temple that starting linebackers Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell would miss the game with injuries.
Nyeem Wartman-White went down on a punt-safe play late in the first quarter, meaning the Nittany Lions would be left with Manny Bowen, Jake Cooper on the outside and walk-on Brandon Smith at the Mike for the remainder of Saturday’s contest. James Franklin discussed the impact his second-string linebackers had in the close 34-27 victory during his post-game press conference.
“Brandon Smith’s a guy that from the day we arrived here, all he does is try to be the best teammate he possibly can be, keeps getting better and better,” Franklin said. “And for him to have eight tackles, be really productive, call the defense…that was big-time.”
Smith, who hails from nearby Winfield, Pa., made the most of his opportunity against the Owls, as the redshirt junior recorded eight tackles (four solo) and a pass breakup to lead the linebacking corps. Though he didn’t make his debut under favorable conditions, Smith understood it was his chance to be the “next man up,” as Franklin always preaches to his team.
“You never want it to happen like that. Obviously, not the best circumstances to be put in the game, but I was excited for my opportunity,” Smith said following the game. “That first series, I was a little nervous and probably played a little slow, but after that we got things rolling and 11 guys were playing together.”
Smith noted that having veteran teammates in the secondary help him set up the defense was huge in his unexpected debut. “Guys like Marcus Allen and Malik [Golden] on the back end were doing a lot of work to help me out with the calls,” Smith said.
But Smith wasn’t the only one shouldering the load for Brent Pry’s defense, as true sophomores Jake Cooper and Manny Bowen played practically the whole game with the losses of Bell and Cabinda. The duo would finish with five and three tackles (Bowen recorded his first sack), respectively, to help hold Temple’s offense to only 38 rushing yards. The pass defense was another story, though, given the Owls finished with one yard less than Penn State through the air (287-286) in junior corner Grant Haley’s absence.
It’s tough to say whether the Nittany Lions will be without all of their starting linebackers moving forward, but thankfully Pry was able to count on his second-team guys to get the job done. Stopping Jim Harbaugh’s high-scoring attack in next Saturday’s Big Ten opener at Michigan will be quite the task if Smith, Cooper, and Bowen are called upon to start, but all three of them proved they can execute the defense when it counts.
Now, the focus shifts to freshman linebacker Cam Brown, who burned his redshirt on special teams against Pitt last weekend, and whether or not the rangy 6-foot-5 Burtonsville, Md., native will be asked to step up and contribute against the Wolverines. Perhaps senior special teams captain Von Walker will see more of the field in Ann Arbor, as well.
Penn State would obviously love to have its starting linebackers back in the lineup heading into the heart of its season, but the backups made a statement in Beaver Stadium and should head into practice this week with an added level of intensity.