Entering the 2018 season many Penn State fans were buzzing about the incoming freshmen for the Nittany Lions and this was quite understandable. After all, James Franklin and his staff had signed a top-5 recruiting class that was littered with high end talent.
Two of the most buzzworthy freshmen were a pair of linebackers - Micah Parsons and Jesse Luketa. Parsons was a top-5 recruit in the country in the 2018 recruiting cycle, and the highest rated player Penn State had signed since Derrick Williams. Meanwhile, Luketa was one of the stars of the Blue-White Game in the spring.
Early on in preseason camp it became known that neither Parsons nor Luketa would redshirt this season. This was partially due to their talent and ability, and partially due to the Nittany Lions lack of depth at linebacker.
Two games into the 2018 campaign linebacker was been one of the weak spots for the Nittany Lions. Jan Johnson has been average at MIKE, while Koa Farmer has performed poorly at WILL. This has cracked open the door for Parsons and Luketa, who now have the opportunity to take over a starting position at some point in 2018- perhaps sooner than later.
In the season opening victory against Appalachian State, both Parsons and Luketa saw time on special teams but only Parsons played on defense. However, this would change against Pitt last Saturday when Luketa saw 18 snaps at MIKE linebacker.
Through two games Parsons has flashed his five-star talent. He’s recorded 11 tackles, including a team leading seven against Pitt, recovered an onside kick, and played a key role in blowing up a punt attempt by Pitt late in the first half on Saturday night.
While the score of the game may have played a role in this, Parsons played more snaps (32) than Farmer (28) did against Pitt. So, we may be witnessing Parsons wrangle the starting job at WILL away from Farmer before our very eyes.
The next two weeks could be very telling when it comes to where at Penn State goes at linebacker the rest of the season. Neither Kent State nor Illinois should be able to give Penn State game. This will create an opportunity for both Parsons and Luketa to get plenty of reps at linebacker in these games.
On Tuesday’s edition of the podcast, Pat predicted that Parsons will start at WILL by the time Ohio State comes to town on September 29th. This is a prediction that is tough to disagree with, especially with things already trending in this direction.
As for Luketa, his time, like Parsons, is also now. During his weekly press conference on Tuesday James Franklin said he believes that at some point this season someone will step up at MIKE linebacker and say ‘the job is mine.’ Well, due to the next two opponents, the opportunity for Luketa to do that is here.
Like any freshman, Luketa and Parsons are going to take their lumps this season. There have already been some examples of this for Parsons. However, by giving them a heavy workload during the next two weeks, they should be able to get plenty of growing pains out of the way before the Buckeyes come to town.
With two inferior opponents looming, this is the perfect opportunity for both Luketa and Parsons to solidify themselves as starting linebackers. If this happens, it will make the Nittany Lion defense better and improve their chances of winning a Big Ten Championship. Hopefully, both players are prepared to take advantage of the looming opportunity.