LBs re­turn to lead ver­sa­tile Lion de­fense

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Travis John­son

Lineback­ers Bran­don Bell and Ja­son Cabinda re­turned Satur­day night for just their sec­ond game to­gether since the sea­son opener and led Penn State’s 6-sack, 24-21 win.

STATE COL­LEGE >> Smeared with grass stains and blue field paint, Ohio State quar­ter­back J.T. Bar­rett’s ruf­fled uni­form was proof of what No. 24 Penn State’s de­fense can do with two of its most ver­sa­tile play­ers avail­able.

Lineback­ers Bran­don Bell and Ja­son Cabinda re­turned Satur­day night for just their sec­ond game to­gether since the sea­son opener and led Penn State’s 6-sack, 24-21 win, with Bar­rett out of sync most of the night.

It was the kind of per­for­mance Brent Pry en­vi­sioned when he took over Penn State’s de­fense last win­ter. Pry vowed to ter­ror­ize of­fenses with high­pres­sure pack­ages akin to those his pre­de­ces­sor used to mold the Nit­tany Lions into a top de­fen­sive unit the last two sea­sons.

A game plan like Satur­day’s had to wait for Bell and Cabinda, and some of their back­ups, to get healthy.

“I’ve been telling you guys for three years that this Brent Pry guy is pretty good, and he has stepped up,” coach James Franklin said. “I mean, we lost seven lineback­ers this year, for long pe­ri­ods of time and our de­fense just kept grind­ing and grind­ing, making no ex­cuses, and just play­ing.”

The Nit­tany Lions (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten) didn’t have to grind this time. They sim­ply at­tacked.

With Bell and Cabinda back, Penn State went af­ter Bar­rett with ex­tra-man pres­sure all night. The Nit­tany Lions blitzed or showed pres­sure on more than 56 per­cent of their plays af­ter play­ing more base de­fenses with their start­ing lineback­ers hurt. Pry, who was the team’s lineback­ers coach be­fore as­cend­ing to de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor when Bob Shoop left for the same job at Ten­nessee, has al­ways val­ued Bell’s abil­ity to time and dis­guise the blitz from the out­side line­backer spot. He wasted lit­tle time get­ting the vet­eran in­volved.

Al­though Bell hadn’t prac­ticed since Week 3, he showed no signs of rust and com­bined with fel­low out­side line­backer Manny Bowen on 16 blitzes. Bell fin­ished with a sack and fac­tored in on 19 tack­les.

Cabinda last prac­ticed in Week 1. Play­ing with a cast on his left hand, he fin­ished with 12 tack­les and was also called on to pres­sure Bar­rett, blitz­ing four times up the mid­dle be­fore Ohio State’s final drive. Then, in a dif­fer­ent look, Cabinda sped around the out­side to help cre­ate back-to-back sacks that ended the Buck­eyes’ night.

“Those two vet­er­ans have been in the trenches like that be­fore, so it didn’t really faze them,” Penn State safety Mar­cus Allen said.

But Cabinda at­trib­uted his suc­cess to the play­ers in front of him, and there’s no doubt that Penn State’s ro­ta­tion of five de­fen­sive ends and six de­fen­sive tack­les wore Ohio State down. Es­pe­cially tack­les Ja­marco Jones and Isa­iah Prince, who were driven back­ward most of the night.

Even­tu­ally, Penn State was get­ting pres­sure by bring­ing just four.

“We say the team thrives off of how the de­fen­sive line plays,” de­fen­sive end Gar­rett Sick­els said. “When­ever the de­fen­sive line gets (tack­les for loss), when­ever the lineback­ers get sacks, cre­ate turnovers, the more things we can do, we’re go­ing to put our­selves in a bet­ter po­si­tion to be suc­cess­ful.”

Penn State cre­ated some of that scheme flex­i­bil­ity as the game wore on.

On Ohio State’s final drive, Pry shifted gears with a three-man front, with Sick­els off the line. But at the snap, Sick­els and Cabinda both charged into the back­field from op­po­site sides to help fin­ish Bar­rett off.

“Up front, we knew that’s where the bat­tle would have to start,” Cabinda said. “We needed to be in a phys­i­cal game. I don’t re­mem­ber the last time I was this sore af­ter a game.”

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