On Saturday, as the hallowed Linebacker U sat decimated by injuries to all three of its starters, an Underdog rose to the occasion once again. A member of Bill O’Brien’s famed “Run-Ons,” Lewisburg’s Brandon Smith stepped in for an injured Nyeem Wartman-White (who just so happened to be filling in for the injured Jason Cabinda) and promptly took command of the defensive huddle. As the middle, or Mike linebacker, Smith, married and a devout Christian, was tasked with calling the defensive plays and handled his job with the poise of an experienced professional. On a day when turnovers and injury kept those pesky Owls in the hunt, Smith’s leadership, not to mention his eight tackles and one tackle for loss on the day, despite his limited playing time prior to Saturday’s 34-27 victory over Temple, turned out to be a key factor. Given our history, I’m a sucker for Underdogs and today is no exception as I present the game ball to Brandon Smith.
Nipping at his heels that under normal conditions would have garnered the game ball, is a Philly native who is quickly becoming a stud in his sophomore season: John Reid. His play in the secondary has been second to none so far this year and includes not only the game-winning interception on Saturday, but the awareness to stay in-bounds afterwards to seal the victory. His prowess as a punt-returner has us all captivated and on the edge of our seats knowing its just a matter of time before he takes one to the house. In a season as young as it is, John Reid has already made a statement and earns himself another helmet sticker. Speaking of statements, how about that one-handed grab by Mike Gesicki, who has quickly put to rest any doubt about his talent and ability on the gridiron.
Chris Godwin continues to climb the record books, and coincidently passed cornerbacks coach Terry Smith to move inside the Top-10 with his performance on Saturday. Trace McSorley continues to shine and spread the ball all over field and, once again, Saquon Barkley saves the day with his 55-yard burst after being bottled up for most of the afternoon. While I’m at it, helmet stickers are in order for his cohorts in the backfield who filled in admirably while Barkley nursed a tweaked ankle in the first half. Mark Allen, despite his diminutive stature was a workhorse, Andre Robinson scored his first touchdown as a Nittany Lion, and true freshman Miles Sanders gave us all the glimpse into the future we’ve been waiting for.
Last but not least, I graciously hand out a helmet sticker and appreciation to an institution that has been a source of discontent among us over the past five years: Penn State University. For one day, we were able to set our differences aside. For one shining moment, we were allowed to rise up and honor a man and his legacy. For the first time in five years, we were able to pull the rope in the same direction, something our new coach has stressed from the beginning of his tenure. For most, it was long overdue, and for others it wasn’t nearly enough. But, on Saturday, a stadium decked out in stripes was able to stand as one and say the three words in public that have eluded us most: Thank You, Joe.
The Big Payback is over, even if those pesky Owls did put up a good fight. On to the Big House my friends, and a date with the Wolverines. You can bet your bottom dollar the Underdogs will be wearing Blue and White, as usual, and that’s not always a bad thing.