Taiwan Deal sprinted past the line, turned left and darted up the Penn State sideline, carrying both the football and Wisconsin’s hopes of getting back into Saturday’s battle with Penn State at Beaver Stadium close to his chest.
After safety Garrett Taylor finally ran him out of bounds with a hard shoulder-to-shoulder hit, Deal had a 37-yard gain and some pain he just couldn’t shake off. He tried to jog to the Badgers sideline, but went down to a knee, and eventually his back at the near hashmark. Trainers ran onto the field. Officials called timeout.
In those moments between the whistle and Deal walking off the field, Penn State made a decision that, in hindsight, looked like a turning point in its convincing 22-10 win.
Veteran linebacker Koa Farmer, who has struggled most of the season, was pulled from the game. Freshman Micah Parsons entered.
The rest of the game, Wisconsin had just 23 yards on 15 carries.
There are some reasons behind those numbers that go beyond a simple substitution for sure, but there seems to be little doubt that Parsons’ move to linebacker in the spring is starting to pay dividends for a Nittany Lions defense that has been getting better as the season goes on.
“He just keeps getting better,” head coach James Franklin said of Parsons, the highly touted true freshman from Harrisburg who played defensive end in high school. “He just continues to build trust with the coaching staff.”
Parsons led the Nittany Lions with seven tackles Saturday, and that’s after he led the linebackers in tackles during their last home game against Iowa.
It’s not exactly common for a true freshman to contribute as much on defense has Farmer has this season, and Franklin admits defensive coordinator Brent Pry is the type of coach who has some trust issues. Talent does not trump trust, his players say. That leads to experience being an even bigger key to playing time.
“First and foremost, you’ve got to fit the scheme and know the play,” said redshirt freshman safety Jonathan Sutherland, another young player who has earned Pry’s trust. “You have to know the play call, what gap you’ve got, how to read plays and everything. It all starts at practice, to be honest, when we’re working through the team periods and working against the scout offense. It’s just making sure you’re gap accountable and doing your job. The more you can do that in practice, the more coach is going to trust you in the game.
“That has really been the case for Micah. He is just doing a great job in practice.”
As the uber-talented Parsons progresses during practice, Franklin conceded that trust level between Pry and his young linebacker has risen greatly. The resulting production makes Parsons a popular choice to get more action.
Leading the team in tackles despite not starting a game probably yields plenty of trust in and of itself, too.
“In just our approach, how we do things, how we meet and how we conduct ourselves, he’s getting better every day,” Franklin said. “As he continues to build trust with coach Pry in all those areas off the field, he’s getting better in terms of preparing himself like a pro and not just relying on his ability. That’s what you’re seeing as the season goes on.”
Windsor honored by Big Ten: Penn State junior defensive tackle Robert Windsor earned his first Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week award after his performance against his home-state Wisconsin Badgers.
Windsor was a key cog in the Penn State defense that held the Badgers to their fewest points (10) since 2016 and fewest passing yards (60) since 2014 in a 22-10 win Saturday at Beaver Stadium. Windsor finished second on the team with a career-high-tying six tackles, including a personal-best 2.0 sacks.
PSU-Maryland game set for 3:30 p.m. Penn State's Senior Day game vs. Maryland to close out the regular season on Saturday, Nov. 24, will kick off at 3:30 p.m. on ABC.
Penn State is 38-2-1 all-time against Maryland, including a 22-1 mark in home games. Tommy Stevens rushed for 113 yards and three touchdowns to lead an offensive explosion in a 66-3 win in College Park last season.