Big day coming for Penn State linebackers. 'I don't think you'll be able to stop him.'
Finally, the time has come for Curtis Jacobs and the Penn State linebackers.
Saturday's game at run-first Auburn should be their kind of day.
Their best chance yet to prove how far they've come in rebuilding their group and the promise of where they can ultimately go.
Jacobs and his associates spent the first two games chasing receivers and desperately trying to make something happen around scrimmage.
Things should shift against Auburn, advertised as one of the best running games around, led by tailback Tank Bigsby and Jarques Hunter. Even both Auburn quarterbacks are good runners.
So far, the highly praised Jacobs and his group have been almost nondescript. Just one sack and two tackles for loss through two games. No turnovers forced.
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Jacobs leads the group with nine total tackles, a pedestrian 4.5 per game.
Now, the action should be funneled through them. Stand up or be exposed.
“I feel like this is a game you want to be a part of as a linebacker, being able to come down hill, strike, get those tackles," he said. "I mean, you didn’t come to Penn State to be a linebacker (and) watch someone play 7-on-7 against you."
Auburn, he said, will create "a different attitude, a different type of energy."
Auburn's Bigsby is averaging nearly 7 yards per carry this season; Hunter is averaging nearly 5. Both were difficult to handle last September in Beaver Stadium.
The Nittany Lions counter with Jacobs, the team's only proven playmaking linebacker − though still not close to the grand expectations surrounding him.
Elsewhere, middle linebacker has been a learn-on-the-job competition between Tyler Elsdon and Kobe King, without much flash.
Former safety Jonathan Sutherland has worked the other outside spot with high energy but limited physicality for the position. He's only 5-foot-11 and 210 pounds.
Helping the cause will be standout senior safety Ji'Ayir Brown, who will play near scrimmage during run-first situations.
But the most intriguing impact should yet come from true freshman Abdul Carter.
Though he only arrived on campus in June, the Philly-area linebacker has impressed enough to see early field time against Purdue and Ohio. Already, he seems on the verge of making big plays.
He even wears the coveted No. 11 jersey − the number of former Penn State linebacker greats LaVar Arrington and Micah Parsons.
Carter already looks the part, too, at 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds. He's only made five tackles through two games, but just looks different doing it.
“I’m not going to lie, that kid is so impressive, man," Jacobs said. "He just wants to get better every day. He comes to practice with that attitude every day.
“He’s crazy athletic. He does a lot of stuff that’s freakish. You just see that and you know that once that kid really gets (experience) ... to anticipate things, to play faster, I don’t think you’ll be able to stop him."
Head coach James Franklin echoed that praise on Tuesday:
“(Carter) has the ability to find the ball in traffic. He’s one of our more explosive guys. … I know he’s gaining more and more confidence, so that he can go out and use all those skills with less thinking, which will make an even more violent and fast player."
Frank Bodani covers Penn State football for the York Daily Record and USA Today Network. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @YDRPennState.