Injury-Ravaged ‘Linebacker U’ Leans On Youngsters Against Michigan
Not much went right for James Franklin’s Nittany Lions in a lopsided 49-10 rout by No. 4 Michigan in Ann Arbor Saturday afternoon, but we learned that Penn State’s young linebackers are resilient, and they’ll need to be moving forward.
Freshman Cam Brown put together a stellar 10-tackle performance against the Wolverines in his first non-special teams action, while Manny Bowen and Jake Cooper stepped up with seven and six tackles of their own, respectively. Koa Farmer saw a bunch of time at the Sam spot, finishing with three tackles, after a controversial targeting call on Brandon Smith and a season-ending injury to Jan Johnson left Penn State’s linebacking corps in even more disarray.
Losing Nyeem Wartman-White for the year against Temple was a huge blow, and still not having veteran starters Brandon Bell and Jason Cabinda proved costly in the Big House, but there’s not much you can do to stop such a high-powered Wolverine offense when front-seven leadership is at an all-time premium.
Positive takeaways are hard to come by right now, but Penn State will eventually emerge from these trials as a better football team. Quite simply, how could it not? The Nittany Lions are building depth all over the place on defense due to the barrage of injuries and Brown, Bowen, Cooper, and Farmer, who have embraced the role of “next man up,” will learn from a tough road loss like this.
“Now, [we’ve] got people that are banged up and out right now,” Bowen said, “so I kinda had to step up today and be the one getting on those guys, yelling at them, motivating them — that we can’t give up plays like that and we’ve gotta take those opportunities that we’re given.”
Bowen also noted how the linebackers will have to be flexible and learn a variety of positions in order to keep enough guys on the field. “I’ve played Sam and Will, and I guess I’ll have to start learning the Mike position now,” Bowen said.
Senior safety Malik Golden, who tied Michigan linebacker Ben Gedeon with a game-high 11 tackles, recognized how important it was for Brown to step up the way he did against the Wolverines during his postgame press conference. “That’s huge coming from a true freshman,” Golden said. “You don’t really see too much when you’re playing, but if he had 10 tackles, he’s doing something right.”
Though giving up 49 points is never a recipe for success, it’s useful to remember that Michigan is one of the best all-around teams in the nation and could very well see itself in the College Football Playoff. California native Koa Farmer, perhaps Penn State’s most versatile athlete, doesn’t see this setback causing problems for the Nittany Lions this coming week. In fact, it’s these difficult moments that motivate Farmer and his teammates to get back up and go even harder in practice.
“That’s why guys like me come to Penn State. We’re tough,” Farmer said. “We’ll put it behind us and then we’re gonna grind to the next one, and that’s Minnesota.”