STATE COLLEGE — Koa Farmer came to Penn State from the other side of the country, looking to make an impact at a school he barely knew on a side of the ball he hardly considered his bread and butter.
Forget focusing on defense for the first time in Pennsylvania. Three weeks ago, the sophomore who grew up 30 miles north of Los Angeles found himself at a position he had never played, helping Penn State fill in the gaps after a rash of injuries struck the linebacking corps following Nyeem Wartman-White’s season-ending knee injury.
In Saturday’s 38-14 victory over previously unbeaten Maryland, however, Farmer looked like a seasoned veteran.
Starting his first game at linebacker, the converted safety had five tackles, and his hard sack of Maryland quarterback Perry Hills in the second quarter forced a fumble and gave Penn State possession at its 20, leading by 10.
“I’ve played a lot of football,” Farmer smiled, “but that was the best feeling ever by far, for me.”
Farmer played enough defense to register four interceptions and a pair of sacks at Notre Dame High School, but he became one of the best players in California because of his versatility on offense, where he caught 38 passes, rushed for 483 yards and scored 18 touchdowns during his senior season as a running back, receiver and Wildcat quarterback.
Head coach James Franklin began recruiting him during his days at Vanderbilt, trying to lure Farmer to Memphis and the SEC as a safety, and Farmer wound up following him to Penn State despite offers from California, Washington, Fresno State and Wisconsin.
Turning Farmer into a defensive-minded player once he got to Happy Valley, though, has been a bit of a process. He started out as a safety, but he saw most of his action for the Nittany Lions last season as a redshirt freshman.
“Koa is one of the faster players on our team, at 222 pounds,” Franklin raved. “I’m happy for him, and I’m happy for our team, because Koa has been kind of like a man without a home since he has been here.
“It’s nice to see him not only playing, but making an impact. He has always been a talented guy.”
Asked Saturday when he finally started feeling comfortable at linebacker, Farmer smiled and said, “Today. In this game.”
He said that, as much as anything, his roots on offense helped him make the transition more quickly, helped him find his role and helped Penn State find what looks to be an answer for an ailing linebacker group that has lost four players — including all three of its opening day starters — for significant stretches to injury.
“Just knowing how offensive guys think has helped me, period,” he said. “When I see an alley, I can see it through their eyes, what they want to do. I know what to do from that aspect.”
Barkley, Smith honored by Big Ten: Penn State sophomore running back Saquon Barkley and junior linebacker Brandon Smith were selected as the Big Ten Offensive and Defensive Player of the Week, respectively, after strong performances in the win over Maryland on Saturday.
Barkley paced a Nittany Lion rushing attack that ran for 372 yards against the Terps as he clicked off a career-high 202 yards on a personal-best 31 carries.
Smith, a walk-on turned starting Mike linebacker, had a game- and career-high 14 tackles versus the Terps. Smith also came up with his first career interception.
Penn State-Ohio State game set for 8 p.m. start: For the fourth consecutive season, Penn State and Ohio State will square off on ABC when the teams meet in the annual Penn State White Out game at Beaver Stadium at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22.
It is the fifth-straight season that the Nittany Lions and Buckeye have met in prime time.