It took a while for the Penn State defense to become a more stable and consistent unit, especially after allowing 451 yards in the overtime thriller against Appalachian State and 231 yards in the rain against Pittsburgh in the first half.
The defense showed what it hopes will be its true colors in the second half Saturday night when it limited Pitt to 69 total yards and no points in a 51-6 rout. In particular, the Nittany Lions' young stable of linebackers showed improvement from the first week to the second.
Head coach James Franklin is giving several linebackers a chance to play and nail down a starting spot. Nine saw action against the Panthers, and if Franklin's comments are any indication, you may need a program to identify the parade of backers who could see action Saturday against Kent State at Beaver Stadium.
"This group will continue to evolve and grow," he said Tuesday at his weekly teleconference. "You'll see a lot of guys get an opportunity to make plays.
"I think at some point this season, either someone will take the job and take control of it and say it's mine because there is a gap, or you'll see a two-headed or three-headed monster continue to evolve there and grow and get better week to week."
Franklin likes the groups playing at the various positions: fifth-year senior Koa Farmer, the only returning starter at linebacker, and freshman Micah Parsons on the strong side; redshirt junior Jan Johnson, redshirt freshman Ellis Brooks and freshman Jesse Luketa in the middle, and junior Cam Brown on the weak side with fourth-year junior Jarvis Miller and sophomore Dae'Lun Darien. Senior Jake Cooper is also in the mix.
Parsons, one of the most sought-after high school recruits in the country last year, is tied for third on the team in tackles with 11 and "continues to get more confident and get more comfortable" while learning to play a position he hadn't played previously, Franklin said.
"It's still all new to him," the coach said. "But he does have a knack for finding the ball. He's got really good instincts from that perspective. There's a lot of things from a fundamental standpoint that he's got to get better at, even just stance and start. He stands way too upright and he needs more knee bend so he can be more efficient with his movements and things like that."
Elsewhere on defense, Franklin said tackle Kevin Givens, who sat out the season opener for what Franklin said was a violation of team rules, made an impact against Pitt with seven tackles. Cornerback Amani Oruwariye picked off his second interception in as many games.
While cornerback John Reid, the junior from St. Joseph's Prep, sat out the game with an undisclosed injury, redshirt sophomore Zach McPhearson and redshirt freshman Donovan Johnson saw increased playing time. McPhearson caught Pitt's Qadree Ollison on a 63-yard run and stopped Ollison on fourth down at the Penn State 7, both in the second quarter.