STATE COLLEGE – Back in September, Penn State coach James Franklin talked about the need for the Nittany Lions to find some “erasers” on the defensive side of the ball.
“Having a guy that you know is running the defense and can be an eraser for you in terms of making plays, we’re not there yet,” Franklin said before the team’s game with Ohio State on Sept. 29. “We’re making progress but we’re not there yet.”
As the season progressed, a few erasers have begun to emerge for Penn State, namely defensive ends Shareef Miller and Yetur Gross-Matos.
Another who has rapidly ascended into becoming one of the more important players for the defense is freshman linebacker Micah Parsons.
Parsons, who made the switch from defensive end to outside linebacker this past spring, had his talent and growth on full display in last weekend’s 22-10 win over Wisconsin.
He had a team-high 10 tackles, giving him 58 over 10 games – making him the team leader in that category.
“He is now not just relying on his athletic ability and his natural instincts, which is what he was doing early in the season,” Franklin said. “He’s now using the techniques and fundamentals and keys and things like that that are allowing him really to take his game to the next level and also build that trust that his role continues to grow. I think you’ve seen that all season and specifically last week. He’ll just continue headed in that direction.”
Defensive tackle Antonio Shelton said Parsons improves with each snap he sees on the field.
“We get a play call, somebody doesn’t get the call, we ask Micah what the call is,” Shelton said. “You can kind of just sense that he’s a lot more comfortable back there just from playing in games and just gaining experience through more film study or getting with the older guys in the linebacker room, just following the example really. He’s just getting a lot more comfortable on the field.”
Importance of New Jersey
Historically, New Jersey has been a state of great focus for Penn State football in recruiting, going back to the Joe Paterno days.
That hasn’t changed much for Franklin in his five years on the job.
This weekend provides the Nittany Lions another chance to showcase their program in New Jersey when they travel to Piscataway to take on Rutgers.
“Obviously, it’s in our (recruiting) footprint,” Franklin said. “If you look at it, Pennsylvania prospect numbers have gone down a little bit, really over the last 30 years. New Jersey has stayed fairly strong.”
Despite the fact his staff has dipped into places like Georgia, Alabama, Florida, California and Oregon, Franklin said one of the most important things for the program recruiting wise is to continue to go into the Mid-Atlantic region. That includes New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, D.C. and Virginia.
“It’s going to be very, very important for us in our approach to keep this footprint,” Franklin said. “This region, it’s important to do a really good job here. And also as you’ve seen, we have to be willing to go a little more national.”
This weekend’s matchup with the Scarlet Knights also provides the opportunity for players from the state the chance to play closer to home and in front of friends and family.
Nine current Nittany Lion players hail from the Garden State.
Defensive end Shareef Miller isn’t from New Jersey, but he is from Philadelphia, which makes this game the closest he will get play to his home this season.
“Yeah, I’m looking forward to it,” Miller, who estimated he has around 15 guest tickets, said. “I’m going to have a lot of family at the game.”