Penn State Football Vs. Rutgers, walk onto field

Players from the Penn State football team walk onto the field during the football game against Rutgers at SHI Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022 in Piscataway, NJ. The Nittany Lions won 55-10.

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Another week, another game full of negative-yardage plays forced by the Penn State defense.

Manny Diaz’s unit came away with 15 tackles for loss and four sacks against Rutgers, the second time in three weeks Penn State racked up double digits in the category. After a sluggish start by the defensive front, Penn State has certainly started to put it together and hasn’t recorded fewer than seven tackles for loss since the Northwestern game.

Plenty of things factor into that — a healthier defensive front and lesser opponents for one. One of the biggest factors, though, lies in Penn State’s linebacking corps, which has come a long way since being the biggest uncertainty on Penn State’s roster prior to the start of the season.

The four leading tacklers for Penn State against Rutgers came from the linebacker position: Kobe King (6), Curtis Jacobs (5), Jonathan Sutherland (4) and Abdul Carter (4). Jacobs and Carter additionally tied for the lead in tackles for loss with two apiece.

Linebackers are often responsible for making tackles and splash plays, but their largest responsibility typically lies in ensuring the defense is set properly prior to each play.

“We're in a situation where our depth at linebacker's pretty good. I wouldn't have said that at the beginning of the season,” James Franklin said after the 55-10 blowout. “Right now, [Tyler] Elsdon and Kobe are both playing really well. Now you got Curtis back. We got pretty good depth really across the board.”

After Elsdon and King split time at Mike linebacker to start the season, Elsdon missed most of the Indiana game with an injury, and King filled the spot nicely with eight total tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss.

Middle linebacker served as the most concerning part of Penn State’s slim linebacker depth due to King and Elsdon’s lack of experience, but King has especially started to pass the eye test in recent weeks — culminating with a scoop-and-score touchdown against the Scarlet Knights on Saturday.

“Mentally knowing the defense and just confidence,” King said. “I was confident, but I would say I'm a little bit more confident out there… Getting the call, setting the front and just playing.”

Meanwhile, Jacobs missed most of the Indiana game and was inactive for the Maryland game before making his return this weekend. Carter — who’s gained plenty of buzz no matter what he’s doing — started in Jacobs’ stead.

The two were back starting together Saturday, something that’s noticeably contributed to Penn State’s defensive improvement.

“He's made the splash plays from the very beginning. The thing that probably is hard for you guys to tell when you're watching the game is his missed assignments are going down every single week,” Franklin said of Carter. “It gives you a lot more confidence that you can put him in there, and not only are you going to get good plays, but the plays that we have to eliminate as young player, those are reducing.”

On top of the improved linebacker play and onslaught of tackles for loss, Penn State now has 16 different players with a sack on the season.

“I don't know if I've ever heard that stat before,” Franklin said. “That's an impressive stat. We got a lot of guys that are able to contribute.”

Penn State tied a program record for tackles for loss against Indiana, pitched a shutout against Maryland and scored two touchdowns on top of 15 tackles for loss against Rutgers in three consecutive weeks.

It’s safe to say things are coming together for Diaz and his defense.

“[Diaz's] message to these guys, his message to us as a defense — how physical, how fast, how aggressive we are,” safety Ji’Ayir Brown said. “I think the guys are really buying into that and then coming out here and applying it on the field every day.”

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