By Thomas Frank Carr
- Cam Brown
He’s 6’5”, 215 pounds. That’s really impressive if you’re a wide receiver.
Too bad he plays linebacker.
You may have noticed no. 31, Cam Brown running around the field at Michigan last week after Brandon Smith was ejected from the game for ‘targeting’. Brown is a true freshman linebacker who looks more like a baby deer than a football player.
That being said, you cannot deny his football instincts. He left a good impression on Penn State Head Coach James Franklin after just one game,
“Cam showed a lot to work with and showed a lot of promise. He naturally has the ability to find the ball and make plays, and we want to build on that, and I think you’ll see him continue to get better each week.”
The key there is that there’s ‘a lot to work with’. Brown is simply to light and too green to become an impact player this season for the Nittany Lions. But what there is to work with, is impressive. Brown had 1o tackles in the game and showed explosiveness to the ball carrier. Once he learns to harness his size (and grow a bit) he will be a force on defense. Hopefully he’ll be able to slide back down the depth chart soon.
- No Seriously, Linebacker WHO?
How about that game versus Michigan? The Nittany Lions were facing the No. 4 team in the country, down all three starting linebackers and then their signal caller at middle linebacker, Brandon Smith, is called for targeting and is ejected from the game.
Then after that his backup Jan Johnson, goes down with an ACL injury and is done for the season. Penn State played the majority of the game with NO MIDDLE LINEBACKER. That’s incredible. It’s something even James Franklin has never seen.
“In my 22 years of doing this, I’ve never been a part of a team that’s lost all three of its starting linebackers… To lose all of them for a significant amount of time at the same time, I’ve never been a part of that. That’s like if you lost all five offensive linemen.”
So what now? And will Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell be back soon? Franklin as always was very guarded about his injured players,
“Again, hopefully it will be sooner rather than later. The bye week is coming up, so I think that’s going to help, as well. But we’ll see.”
Just from the way Franklin talked about it, and the reluctance to move too many players to linebacker to cover the holes that have sprouted on the depth chart, it seems like the team is just trying to get by until the bye week after homecoming in two weeks. Hopefully by then either/ or Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell will be back.
- Improved Run Defense
When you look at the final stats in the game versus Michigan last week they make you want to either cry or grab a cold beverage (or both) but to just look at the final numbers would do a disservice to the strides that he Penn State defense has made.
If you take out the 39 yard run by De’Von Smith on the third drive of the game for Michigan, the Penn State defense allowed only 3.2 yards per carry on the first four drives. That includes a losing a middle linebacker in the process. They showed flashes of very solid play, which is a far cry from where they started the year.
Things started to fall apart right before halftime when they allowed 35 yards on the ground on the way to another Michigan touchdown. You have to consider however, that the Penn State offense had gone three and out four of fives times in the first half and had only amassed 10:38 in time of possession. Yes it’s not where Penn State fans want to be, but to ignore the improvement would be wrong. Penn State should have a much better time against Minnesota. That is unless they can’t contain Mitch Leidner.
- Contain Contain Contain
The simple fact is that Penn State has not been good at stopping dual threat quarterbacks under James Franklin. That is especially confounding considering that they practice against them now. Think back to last year’s game vs Ohio State when the Nittany Lions were competitive right up until the point that J.T. Barrett stepped into the game. This year versus Kent State was no different.
The Nittany Lions struggle to stop players like Mitch Leidner and he’s a very good dual threat quarterback. If he’s allowed to get free on the edge, Leidner could single handedly ruin the day for Penn State. Franklin is aware of this,
“The thing that differentiates him a little bit is 25 rushing touchdowns, a school record for rushing touchdowns for a quarterback. He’s a guy in the red zone, he’s going to pull the ball and run it, even I think sometimes when his read and indicator says he should hand the ball off. He’s going to pull the ball down there. . He’s a big, strong quarterback who’s willing to run, and that keeps you honest. It adds another dimension to your offense and makes him difficult to defend.”
He’s not just willing to run, he’s able. The Nittany Lions must contain Leidner if they want to win on Saturday.
- Beat Minnesota
The Minnesota Golden Gophers are a solid team, filled with solid football players. While they aren’t as beat up as Penn State and they have a more even distribution of depth across their roster, they are a beatable team. They are solid, but rather unspectacular.
There are reasons, but not excuses for losing to this Minnesota team. They may have a talented quarterback and a big, physical offensive line, but the Penn State defensive front seven has played well at times, despite the injuries over the past several weeks. Their defense is solid and has some quality players but they don’t have Saquon Barkley, Chris Godwin, DaeSean Hamilton, Mike Gesicki, Deandre Thompkins or Trace McSorley.
If it’s a shootout, Penn State fans will understand. If you have to get creative in how you get Barkley the ball, they’ll love it. Play with four linebackers, two linebackers or no linebackers, but find a way. To me this IS a coaching game. Get the most out of your players.