Curtis Jacobs To Play Key Role Against Arkansas As Linebacker Positions Shift

Stud linebackers Ellis Brooks and Brandon Smith led Penn State football in tackles this year, but neither will play in the Outback Bowl this Saturday in Tampa. The pair announced earlier this month that they’d both skip post-season play as they prepare for the NFL Draft.

With those two stalwarts gone, plenty is left on the plate of Curtis Jacobs. The sophomore, who was once a five-star recruit out of Maryland, is now the only starting linebacker left on the Nittany Lions’ opt-out depleted defense. Jacobs made 51 total tackles and two sacks this year alongside Smith and Brooks, but he’ll likely see the majority of his time at Smith’s Will position this Saturday.

Now finishing his second year in Happy Valley, Jacobs feels prepared to play anywhere on the field for the linebacking core, notably Smith’s old spot.

“Since I was a freshman, I put myself in a position to play all three [positions],” Jacobs said Wednesday. “It’s really all the same stuff. It’s just more about reading stuff and getting my reads quicker. I’m getting better with that as these bowl practices have gone on.”

Jacobs added that the Will linebacker excites him as a spot that is a bit of an “unsung hero” on the defense. As he now adjusts to play in that new spot, however, he also steps into a clear leadership role in the room. James Franklin didn’t note anyone specifically, but he explained at his press conference earlier this week that the Nittany Lions will need to burn redshirts among freshman linebackers.

Most notably, freshmen Jamari Buddin and Kobe King will likely see plenty of the field against the Razorbacks. The pair have both played sparingly over the course of four games this year.

“Those guys are gonna be special. They’re gonna be big for us coming up,” Jacobs said. “They’re playing a little faster. I noticed that, because I know with me last year I wasn’t playing that fast. I’m just trying to get them more comfortable and get their confidence up.

“From the end of this year to next year, someone’s gonna need to be that leader. It’s just exciting to get put into that position now,” Jacobs added.

Jacobs won’t be the only linebacker who’s relied upon as a leader on Saturday, as Jesse Luketa and Jonathan Sutherland are both expected to slot into roles alongside him. The first of that pair started at linebacker in one game this season, but has notably seen a burst in production as he’s made the shift to defensive end. Luketa made 52 total tackles primarily along the defensive line, but his one start at a different spot came when he played middle linebacker against Ball State while Brooks served a targeting penalty suspension.

As for Sutherland, the veteran Nittany Lion has made a name for himself as a rotating safety and special teamer, but saw time at the Sam position when Jacobs was out against Rutgers. Along with that, Sutherland ended his announcement that he’ll return to Penn State for a sixth year with “#LBU.”

Jacobs is pleased to have Sutherland back as an experienced resource in the bowl game and in the 2022 season.

“He works probably harder than anyone on the team. You see it day in and day out,” Jacobs said. “I’m really excited for [Sutherland]. He’s been coming up to me a lot asking me questions about Sam, so that’ll help me out too.”

Penn State’s defense, including that ever-changing linebacking core, will be tasked with slowing down an Arkansas offense that’s put up 161 points in its last five games. The Outback Bowl will kick off at noon Saturday and be broadcast on ESPN2.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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