Penn State is expected to implement a first-time starter Saturday afternoon against Iowa: safety Jonathan Sutherland. The redshirt freshman will be called upon to step up in the absence of Garrett Taylor, who must sit out through halftime due to a targeting penalty and ensuing ejection incurred at Indiana.
Taylor, a redshirt junior, started the first seven games of this season and has played at a high level during Big Ten action. He is tied for second in tackles (36) among Nittany Lions players and tied for the team lead with two interceptions, adding six pass breakups and a fumble recovery along the way.
“Jon will get a bunch of opportunities there and he’s progressing nicely,” Penn State coach James Franklin said Tuesday. “He’s got some real strengths.”
Based on his reputation as a recruit, along with feedback from Nittany Lions coaches and teammates, Sutherland’s ability to deliver high-impact hits is perhaps paramount among those strengths.
“When he makes his mind up to go make a tackle, there’s very little breakdown,” Franklin said. “Most guys will come under control, chatter their feet, get their hips underneath them and then make the tackle. With Sutherland, he’s more like a missile. He just goes. I think he flashes that way a lot.”
Early performances on the practice field earned him a nickname in Happy Valley.
“(Franklin) called him ‘The Assassin’ — just a guy that keeps his head down and works and attacks everything like an assassin would, I guess,” senior cornerback Amani Oruwariye said.
Sutherland, an Ottawa (Ontario, Canada) native who emerged as a coveted Power 5 football prospect at Episcopal (Alexandria, Va.) High School, was considered a four-star recruit and top-300 overall talent in 247Sports 2017 composite rankings. He’s drawn comparisons to a recent Nittany Lions defensive leader.
“He can bring a lot of the physicality. I think his game and (four-year starting Penn State safety) Marcus Allen‘s game is very similar in a lot of ways,” Franklin said. “As he continues to get more confident, I think you’re going to see him be even more aggressive. I think you’re going to see him be more violent.”
Sutherland, who has secured 25 tackles and a forced fumble while appearing in every game this season, spoke with media members Wednesday morning. Learn more about ‘The Assassin’ by reading ahead.