Reserve linebackers flex Penn State's depth on defense in Micah Parsons' absence

The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)
Penn State linebacker Jesse Luketa (40) tackles Maryland running back Lorenzo Harrison III (2) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019, in College Park, Md. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

The relationship between Jesse Luketa and Micah Parsons has been well-documented.

Luketa might be the last person who wanted to see Parsons walk to the locker room after he was ejected for targeting in the first quarter of Penn State’ 59-0 win over Maryland on Friday night.

But after being thrust into a larger role for the first time, Luketa knows just how important his performance was.

“It was a great opportunity,” said Luketa, a sophomore. “My number was called and that’s just the standard we have in the linebacker room.”

Luketa finished the game with five solo tackles –– good for second on the team –– and nearly hauled in his first career interception. But he wasn’t the only reserve linebacker to showcase the embarrassment of riches the Nittany Lions have in the linebacker room right now. Ellis Brooks led the team in tackles and also finished with 2 1/2 sacks.

“Ellis has been playing his best football lately,” Luketa said. “I’m excited for what he’s going to do this year.”

Parsons’ exit from the game certainly wasn’t ideal for the Nittany Lions. But the fact that it came in the first half (which means he won’t have to sit out the first half this week against Purdue) might end up being a good thing for the defense as a whole. Because the performance of Penn State’s second-team linebackers –– Luketa, Brooks, and freshman Brandon Smith –– didn’t come against a team like Idaho. It came in a Big Ten game on the road in front of a hostile crowd.

“Brent Pry’s done a really good job of developing those guys in recruiting, and recruiting at the position as well,” head coach James Franklin said. “We got a lot of guys playing at a high level right now, we really do.“

When players like Luketa and Brooks come in for Parsons, arguably the Nittany Lions’ best defensive player, and make Parsons’ absence almost unnoticeable, it’s hard not to see the potential this defense has, not only this season but for the next few years in Happy Valley.

“It’s a great feeling –– It just makes you hungry,” Luketa said of the shutout. “You see what we can do. We’re just touching the surface.”