Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons relishes role as big underdog vs. unbeaten Ohio State

(Allentown) Morning Call (TNS)
Linebacker Micah Parsons, seen here making a tackle earlier this season vs. Buffalo. leads Penn State in tackles with 75. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)
  • Penn State will take on unbeaten Ohio State on Saturday in Columbus.
  • The Nittany Lions enter the Big Ten showdown as an 18-point underdog.
  • The Harrisburg native leads Penn State in tackles with 75 this season.

Micah Parsons is ready for Penn State to be the underdog at Ohio State.

In fact, he said Penn State has been undervalued all season.

“I don’t think anybody counted us to be this good, and we’ve just got to keep going with this mentality,” Parsons said. “I hope that we’re the underdogs. I’m living for the underdog role. Underdogs always come out on top.”

Penn State certainly is an underdog for Saturday’s game at unbeaten Ohio State — by 18 points, in fact. According to The Action Network, a sports betting site, the margin is the third-highest between the teams since Penn State joined the Big Ten. And it’s the highest spread when both teams are ranked in the top 10.

Dynamic collection of players: Parsons, Penn State’s sophomore linebacker, is among a dynamic collection of players who will reunite at Ohio Stadium. Parsons maintains contact with Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins, Chase Young and Justin Fields, all of whom he got to know off the field.

After Penn State’s win over Indiana, Parsons recalled that he and Fields, Ohio State’s quarterback, almost played together at both Penn State and Georgia. Parsons also told stories about his internship this summer at The Opening, a national camp that brings together the nation’s top high-school talent.

“When Chase [Young] said, ‘You almost came here [to Ohio State],’ I was like, ‘Yeah, that would have been dope if we were together,’” Parsons said. “But everything happens for a reason. I thought about the ‘what-ifs’ the day I committed. I thought every possible option and I felt like this was the best place for me.”

Penn State's Micah Parsons says he's relishing the underdog role on Saturday against unbeaten Ohio State.

Chance to showcase his talents: Now, Parsons has a chance to showcase his work on a national stage against perhaps the country’s best team. The Harrisburg native leads Penn State in tackles (with 75) for the second consecutive year. He is the defense’s most versatile player, able to play multiple positions at all three levels.

Parsons can blitz corners, shoot gaps against running backs and track receivers in space. He’s second on the team in tackles for loss (8) and has broken up 3 passes.

He also remains an animated personality in Penn State’s defense. Two weeks ago at Minnesota, Penn State coach James Franklin benched Parsons for the game’s first series. Franklin called it “behavior modification" while noting that the structure, expectations and standards of college football continue to be a “big change” for Parsons.

"Nowhere near his ceiling:" Even so, Franklin insists that Parsons is “nowhere near his ceiling," which Parsons pursues zealously.

“To be honest with you, we’re learning from Micah, too,” Franklin said. "There’s nobody that has more fun at meetings, and there’s nobody that has more fun on the practice field and maybe in life, than Micah Parsons."

He certainly had fun during, and after, Penn State’s 34-27 win over Indiana. Parsons nearly made his first career interception before making a prediction.

“The ball is favoring me, and it’s going to come really soon,” Parsons said. “I think it’s going to come when we really need it.”

"Bizarre" recruiting process: Then Parsons discussed what he called his “bizarre” recruiting process that included multiple visits to Ohio State. Parsons made his official visit in 2017, when Oklahoma and quarterback Baker Mayfield played at Ohio Stadium.

Parsons said he followed Young’s suspension story, chatted with Dobbins online and admires Ohio State’s roster.

“Those are my boys,” he said. “I have no have for anybody in the game. I appreciate all those who add to the game.”

Game will hinge on PSU defense: But Parsons knows this game is different. Penn State can upend the Big Ten title chase and College Football Playoff rankings with a victory, one that will hinge on its defense.

Ohio State leads the nation in scoring (51.5 points per game), and Parsons said that, if Penn State doesn’t contain Fields, “we’re going to be in trouble.” Still, he’s looking forward to his return to the Horseshoe.

“This is the opportunity for me, and all the other defensive guys to really, you know, prove that we belong and prove that we could be the best team in the Big Ten,” Parsons said. "This is going to make or break either one of our seasons. This is it, right now. We’ve got to capitalize immediately.”