Penn State finished its 2018 regular season on a high note defensively, limiting the last three Big Ten opponents to 20 total points. That recent success, along with steady collective improvement this fall, helped result in first-team all-conference accolades for a pair of Nittany Lions players Tuesday.
Sophomore defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos and redshirt senior cornerback Amani Oruwariye — both first-year starters — were named first-team All-Big Ten. Gross-Matos got the first-team nod from media voters, while coaches selected him third-team. Oruwariye was a first-team pick in both cases.
Conference defensive awards were also announced Tuesday. Kenny Willekes (Michigan State) is Defensive Lineman of the Year, Amani Hooker (Iowa) is Defensive Back of the Year and Devin Bush (Michigan) is both the Linebacker of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.
Offensive selections will be revealed Wednesday.
Oruwariye, widely considered the premier NFL draft prospect from Penn State’s senior class, has collected 48 tackles and three interceptions in 2018. He leads the Nittany Lions with 12 pass breakups.
Though he didn’t start a game last season, Oruwariye was a 2017 Second-Team All-Big Ten selection after leading Penn State with four interceptions.
“Amani is a great man-to-man cover guy,” Nittany Lions cornerbacks coach Terry Smith said in late October. “He lines up on the opponent’s best receiver, and he has the biggest challenge. He can’t take a play off, and he’s played a lot of snaps for us and done a fantastic job. With his length, his athleticism, he’s a physical corner, and he’s a great man cover guy.”
Gross-Matos is one of only eight players in FBS action who’ve totaled 20 or more tackles for loss this year. He’s collected 20 tackles for loss (most at Penn State since 2008) and his eight sacks rank third among Big Ten players.
“You’ve got to remember, I’ve called him a freak before,” Nittany Lions defensive line coach Sean Spencer said this month. “He’s as close to Carl Nassib as I’ve had here, and Carl Nassib is doing it at the next level (with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers). He’s got a tremendous motor, unbelievable balance, and a combination of speed and power. … This is the type of guy we want to recruit moving forward. He’s definitely an example of a guy who’s able to take unbelievable ability to the field. He does freaky things out there.”
Gross-Matos earned the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week award after recording four tackles for loss and two sacks in an Oct. 27 win over Iowa. He tallied at least two tackles for loss in five of the final seven contests, including 3.5 last Saturday against Maryland.
“His approach, how he works every day and the stuff he does in practice is translating into the game,” fellow defensive end starter Shareef Miller said recently. “His ceiling is still high. He has room to get better, and I’m excited for him.”
Miller, a redshirt junior, was named an All-Big Ten third-teamer by media voters. Honorable mentions picked from the Penn State defense feature freshman linebacker Micah Parsons (media), cornerback John Reid (media/coaches), safety Nick Scott (media), safety Garrett Taylor (media/coaches) and defensive tackle Robert Windsor (media/coaches).
Top Big Ten specialists were also recognized, though no Penn State player placed higher than honorable mention (returner KJ Hamler).