By David F. Cohen
As Penn State prepares for its game at Illinois this Saturday, it is useful to reflect on one element that has helped the Nits get to 6-4 and guarantee a bowl appearance:
Adrian Amos was surrounded by three freshmen in the secondary at times last Saturday, and they came up with big plays to help Penn State earn a 30-13 win over Temple at Beaver Stadium.
Freshmen cornerbacks Christian Campbell and Grant Haley (photo above) each hauled in interceptions as did Amos and senior Jesse Della Valle. Campbell started in place of Trevor Williams, who was out with an injury. Haley returned his interception for a touchdown to put the game out of reach early in the fourth quarter.
Campbell and Haley each recorded three tackles. Campbell also had a pass breakup.
Freshman safety Marcus Allen started his fourth straight game and finished with two tackles.
“I like freshmen to come in and make plays for us,” Penn State coach James Franklin said, looking up at recruits watching his postgame press conference. “We’re going to play guys. We’re going to play guys that are ready. We’re going to play guys that prepare themselves physically and mentally, but I’m really proud of those guys. They’ve been playing all year long, and they’ve been playing well.”
Franklin said he looks for players with speed and ball skills who could play wide receiver or defensive back in recruiting.
“Those guys have a lot of the things that you necessarily can’t teach,” Franklin said. “They got the speed, they got the athleticism.”
With Temple trailing 20-13, Campbell pulled in his first career interception to halt an Owls’ drive late in the third quarter.
The pocket collapsed on Temple quarterback P.J. Walker, and his pass intended for wide receiver Brandon Shippen landed in the waiting arms of Campbell.
Haley picked off Walker on the Owls’ next drive.
Penn State linebacker Nyeem Wartman blew right through the middle of the Temple line untouched to provide the pressure. Haley caught the pass at the 30-yard line and took off downfield, diving into the end zone to give the Nittany Lions a 27-13 lead with 13:57 left in the fourth quarter.
“Since they got here, we all knew they were going to be great players,” defensive tackle Anthony Zettel said. “They really stepped up. Those plays are made by big players, and they made some big plays.
“That pick-6 was unbelievable just to watch him fall in the end zone. I just couldn’t be more excited where we’re headed and how good we really could be.”
The emergence of the freshmen as playmakers in the secondary rounds out a stout Penn State defense.
The defensive line, led by Zettel, has been dominant all season. The linebackers, led by Hull, have been steady.
Franklin said he’s seen depth develop in both position groups.
With the freshmen contributing, the secondary was dependable even without Williams.
“You look in the secondary, we came into this with a little bit of a question mark in the one corner spot but felt like we had experience there and played some young guys,” Franklin said. “So what you see on defense is we have depth and we have playmakers and we have experience at all three levels.”