Senior Brandon Bell hadn’t seen any game action since the first half of week two, way back on Sept. 10. Despite missing the last six weeks, Bell showed absolutely no signs of rust while putting on a master class of linebacker play to help lead the defense in a stunning upset against Ohio State on Saturday night.
Bell was simply everywhere each time the Buckeyes’ offense took the field. In all, he finished with 19 tackles, a tackle for loss, a sack, and a pass breakup. He fed off the impassioned Whiteout crowd to play with a level of intensity that was nearly unmatched. While the phrases “leaving it all out on the field” and “giving 110 percent” are cliche, they sum up Bell’s performance. For four quarters, he gave every ounce of energy to lead a historic defensive performance that improbably shut down a Buckeyes offense that is absolutely brimming with playmakers and was averaging just under 50 points per contest during its 6-0 start.
While Penn State needed a complete team effort to defeat the Buckeyes, there is little doubt that Bell’s teammates fed off the insurgence of energy that came with him returning to the field. The defense especially gave a superhuman effort, and it all started with their senior leader.
Garret Sickels- It became quite clear that Sickels was crawling out of his skin during his first-half suspension, because once he stepped on the field the defensive line rose several notches. Sickels played like a man possessed. In just one half he accumulated 2.5 sacks, 3.5 TFLs and nine tackles in total. He was an unblockable force who constantly rattled J.T. Barrett and changed the tone of the entire game with his incredible effort.
Jason Cabinda- Cabinda had an even longer injury stint than Bell, going all the way back to the team’s week one victory against Kent State. Like Bell, he showed absolutely no signs of rust by accumulating a career-high 13 tackles, two TFLs and a sack.
Marcus Allen and Grant Haley- Duh.
Manny Bowen- In a game that required many Nittany Lions to play at their very best, Bowen answered the call. He also had a career high in tackles, gathering 12 with a TFL. Bowen has shown tremendous progress throughout the season, embracing his role as a full-time starter and helping the defense to play at an extremely high level despite the inexperience and injuries.
Von Walker- This could easily get lost, but Walker had two huge tackles as part of the kickoff team that made Ohio State start two late drives deep in their own territory. Walker’s constant hustle made things much harder for the Buckeyes to get a drive going in the fourth quarter, where they ultimately went scoreless.
Saquon Barkley- Despite a lack of running lanes, Barkley managed a 99-yard performance on just 12 carries. His 37-yard burst early in the fourth quarter was one of the main plays, arguably the main play, to launch the comeback.
Trace McSorley- While his numbers were pretty atrocious, McSorley has a knack for creating the big play when it’s needed most. All offseason we heard about his intangibles that make up for his physical stature, and we continue to see that in action. With McSorley behind center, it always seems Penn State is capable of a big play at any moment, whether it’s with him using his arm or his legs.
Everyone- Like, literally everyone involved in this program. The entire team, from Chris Godwin to the walk-on scout team players. The entire coaching staff, especially Brent Pry’s tremendous gameplan, Sean Spencer’s ability to coach up a young-but-hungry group of defensive lineman, and the man in charge, James Franklin for shutting up his doubters and never shying away from his master plan. All 100,000-plus in attendance who cheered their hearts out and made things more difficult for the Ohio State offense. The popcorn vendors. The parking lot attendants. Shareef Miller’s fourth grade teacher. That guy in the Penn State hat that gave me a thumbs up at the grocery store that one time. Literally, everyone.