Shareef Miller says he doesn’t mind all the extra snaps he has played in Penn State’s last two games, the result of injuries that have knocked two of his fellow defensive ends out of the lineup.
“The biggest challenge for me playing a lot is going into the fourth quarter and not being as fresh as I usually am,” the redshirt sophomore from George Washington High School said. “That’s the only thing. My coaches trust me enough to have me out there, so I don’t really complain about it. I just play.”
The workload has been heavy the past two weeks for Miller and his teammates along the defensive line. In road losses to Ohio State and Michigan State, the Nittany Lions defense has been on the field for 78 and 80 plays, respectively, and has given up 1,003 total yards, while recording just two sacks in each game.
When Rutgers comes into Beaver Stadium on Saturday for the Lions’ annual homecoming game, the pressure shouldn’t be quite as bad. The Scarlet Knights rank 126th among the 129 teams in FBS in total offense, averaging 294.4 yards per game, and their passing attack stands 121st.
Still, head coach James Franklin wants to see a better pass rush, a postgame complaint of his the past two weeks. Miller thought the Lions put pressure last weekend on Michigan State’s Brian Lewerke – they were credited with seven quarterback hurries – but couldn’t quite get to him.
“We pressured him and flushed him out [of the pocket], but we didn’t always sack him,” Miller said. “Stuff like that motivates us. We’ll be better this week.”
Franklin also suggested that Penn State had to be more physical across the front on both sides of the ball. Miller said he believes that if the coach says it, it serves to motivate him and his teammates.
The 6-foot-5, 257-pound Miller, who also played for Frankford High, leads Penn State with eight tackles for loss on the season and is tied for second in sacks, with 3.5, behind Shaka Toney, his friend from Imhotep Charter.
The 233-pound Toney, who had been used in obvious passing situations early in the season, is playing more since the injuries to defensive ends Torrance Brown and Ryan Buchholz. Miller said Toney is learning every day.
“Obviously, he has to hit the weight room hard, so he can get bigger, so he can be that defensive end he wants to be,” he said. “He tells me all the time he wants to be a guy that can play all three downs instead of just being in on third down. So I just tell to him keep working and keep listening to the coaches and the older guys and keep developing and getting better.”
Injuries have given Penn State’s younger defensive ends, such as Toney, redshirt freshman Shane Simmons and true freshman Yetur Gross-Matos, chances to contribute. Miller said all have “different types of styles” and have been impressive, especially the 6-foot-5, 248-pound Gross-Matos.
“Yetur, I like that kid,” Miller said. “He’s going to be real good once he puts everything together. He’s got a mixture of speed, power. He’s a big kid. Once he puts it all together, he’s going to have a real good career. So I’m excited for him, too.”