Penn State’s Defense Proves The Doubters Wrong
After all the injuries and questions of whether this team could even compete with Ohio State, Brent Pry and the Nittany Lion defense found their answer Saturday night.
Penn State stunned the Buckeyes 24-21 for its first win over a top-two opponent since knocking off No. 1 Notre Dame (you guessed it, 24-21) in 1990.
The Nittany Lions, who finally had veteran linebackers Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell back in the starting lineup, exceeded their wildest expectations by snapping Ohio State’s perfect 20-0 road record under Urban Meyer. And it wouldn’t have been possible without a heroic performance across the board from Penn State’s defense.
Previous opponents failed to hold Ohio State scoreless in any quarter during the first half of the season. Penn State accomplished the feat twice — in the first and fourth quarter.
“Five years ago, everyone counted us out. Everyone thought we were done,” Cabinda said following the victory. “This wasn’t a fluke win. This is who we are. This is who we believe we can be, and will continue to be.”
Cabinda finished second among all players with 12 tackles and a sack after missing the last five games due to injury. With 4:21 left on the clock and a three-point lead, Cabinda thought back on all the months of preparation leading up to that moment.
“In my mind, I said to myself that it was the last winter workout and we had four-and-a-half minutes left at the last station — that’s the mindset I took. I just said, ‘Give it all you’ve got and finish this thing.’ And that’s what we did.”
The Flemington, N.J., native bullied his way through the Ohio State offensive line on third and 10 and wrapped up J.T. Barrett for a 13-yard loss on the penultimate meaningful play. But Cabinda was far from the only Nittany Lion defender to step up. Teammates like Bell, who posted a career-high 19 tackles, dug deep and found another gear on the biggest stage of their careers. He discussed what it was like to finally be back on the field.
“Nothing really affects me the way football does,” Bell said. “Nothing makes me more happy than football. And like I said before, I was losing my mind sitting out five, six weeks.”
As one of the lone seniors on the defense, Bell knew his voice would need to be heard loud and clear out there among all the pandemonium of a Beaver Stadium White Out. Down 21-7 midway through the third quarter, the Mays Landing, N.J., standout had a simple message for his teammates.
“‘Circumstances don’t matter to a dog.’ That was my message to the team,” Bell said. “[Former cornerback] Trevor Williams texted me [last night] and said, ‘Hey, man, y’all can beat them. Just make sure they’re ready.’ I said, ‘I got you.'”
Fellow starting linebacker Manny Bowen played a huge role in holding the defense together over the past few weeks. The true sophomore followed in the footsteps of his older “Linebacker U” brethren against the Buckeyes, racking up 11 tackles. Bowen noted that the team had some extra motivation heading into the primetime clash.
“What fired us up, first of all, was guys talking about how we had no chance. That’s what set me off,” Bowen said. “All day, I had that locked in my head. ‘[They] have no chance. Ohio State’s gonna beat them by 20.’ That’s all we needed was that little doubt. When they doubted us, we just came out and wanted to prove everybody wrong. There’s nothing stronger than that.”
Redshirt junior Garrett Sickels, who missed the first half due to an undisclosed suspension, was lights out when he came into the ballgame. The defensive end seemed like he was in Ohio State’s backfield almost every play. He would go on to tally nine tackles and two-and-a-half sacks.
It’s a travesty that it took almost 600 words for Grant Haley to get his recognition, because the junior corner came up with the biggest play of Penn State’s season late in the fourth quarter. Ohio State’s Tyler Durbin trotted out to try and extend the Buckeyes’ lead to seven from 45 yards out, but Marcus Allen rounded the corner and got a hand on the football. As if it were fate, the pigskin bounced right into Haley’s outstretched hands and the speedy corner was off to the races for a 60-yard scoop-and-score to deliver the upset.
Jordan Smith’s lone entry on the box score couldn’t have been more important. The senior saved the game thanks to some beautiful coverage on a deep ball down the left sideline intended for James Clark. LeBron James, among other Ohio State fans, thought it should have been pass interference. Smith playfully disagreed.
I think my play was clean King ? ✌?️? https://t.co/sl7qDhqg9l
— Jordan Smith (@unodos_smith) October 23, 2016
Who would’ve thought four years (or even four weeks) ago that Penn State would be sitting on top of the college football world on Oct. 22, 2016. Well, here’s thanking those who doubted this team, because you were a big reason why history was made this Saturday in Beaver Stadium.