Welcome to Koerbler PR Firm, where each week I will do my best to create and/or maintain a favorable public image for a number of Penn State players and coaches. Before we get started, let me be clear: here at Koerbler PR, the most important ability to us is accountability. Yes, we have a job to do. Yes, we might need to spin some things into positives. But blindly defend in the face of hypocrisy? Never.
Honor. Integrity. Honesty. That’s what is important to us. Remember that.
The fortunate thing is this week, we don’t have to do much of any spinning because Penn State went into Camp Randall and beat No. 12 Wisconsin 16-10. I’m going to repeat that: Penn State went into Camp Randall and beat No. 12 Wisconsin 16-10. Ah, that feels good. You know how we all complained about starting the season with a ranked opponent on the road? Well folks, the reward is sweet, isn’t it?
Anyway, there are a number of people we here at Koerbler PR could have chosen because it really was a standout day for so many Nittany Lions. But alas, let’s focus on three in particular.
1. PJ Mustipher
I’ve been a longtime fanboy of Mustipher. Back when he signed in December 2017, I had him ranked as the No. 3 prospect in Penn State’s class only behind Micah Parsons and
Justin Shorter someone else I guess I don’t remember. I said he had the makings of an All-B1G defensive tackle as well. So while he has been solid during his Penn State career thus far, he never was able to put it all quite together.
That was until yesterday. Mustipher was magnificent all day in Madison, controlling the line of scrimmage, eating up double teams, and making life easier for those around him. The latter of which is perhaps most important, because you saw the consequential benefits of having a game wrecker in the middle. The defensive ends’ lives were made easier. The linebackers’ lives were made easier. My life was made easier. Every and any Penn State affiliated person has an easier life because of PJ. Thank you, PJ.
Mustipher was credited with 7 tackles and 1 TFL, the latter of which I just don’t believe to be true. Like I watched the game, and I can assure you Mustipher had more than 1 TFL. The guy *lived* in the Badger backfield. I mean, it was just a dominant performance from Mustipher, and it’s not like this was against some Group of Five offensive line — this was big, bad, dairy-filled Wisconsin. Toss in the fact that Mustipher played an inordinate amount of snaps with how much the defense was on the field, and man, what a day for PJ.
2. Jesse Luketa
Arnold Ebiketie will get most of the accolades when it comes to the defensive ends, and rightfully so — 7 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 sack, causing the intentional grounding that just about sealed the game, causing me to yell “ARNOLD” like Helga Pataki circa 1998. But, at least for me, I didn’t greatly question Ebiketie’s impact. Now granted, he played even better than I expected, but from all reports, Ebiketie was going to be a player on the defensive line,
It was the other side on the defensive line where Penn State had the bigger questions — and perhaps, some of those questions were answered. Former-but-still-current linebacker Jesse Luketa made the switch to a Jerome Hayes-esque standup defensive end role to help the defense, and it was clear rather quickly that Luketa has found a home. He didn’t put up gaudy stats — just 4 tackles with no sacks or TFLs. But like Mustipher, his impact on the game was much stronger than the box score indicates.
Luketa just seemed much more comfortable there, and honestly, it isn’t all too surprising when you consider how he has looked at linebacker. He’s a massive linebacker at 6-foot-3, 247 pounds, and has the power to match it. He’s a good athlete, but that athleticism is best served when he’s attacking the line of scrimmage rather than dropping back into coverage where his lack of fluidity is more apparent. So to me, defensive end should be his spot. He’ll apparently see time at middle linebacker against Ball State due to Ellis Brooks’ first half suspension, but moving forward, 99% of Luketa’s snaps should be at defensive end.
3. James Franklin
Going back to last year when the Nittany Lions started 0-5, I don’t think it should be understated just how impressive this quick turnaround back to acceptable has been. I mean, I am a very positive guy, and this is what I said after the Iowa game last year.
“I’ll echo what I said after the Ohio State game in 2018. Be mad. Be angry. Unfortunately, unlike then, I can’t say have confidence in this program. I don’t have the trust. I don’t have the belief. I don’t have the answers.”
So going 4-0 in the final four games to salvage something from the season. Getting buy-in from players like Jahan Dotson, Jaquan Brisker, and Rasheed Walker to come back for another season. Landing very important transfer players like Eric Wilson, Derrick Tangelo, and the aforementioned Ebiketie. Dominating the 2022 recruiting cycle, currently boasting the No. 1 class in the country with a 24-player group. And now, going into Camp Randall and knocking off Wisconsin, the first time a Franklin-coached team has ever won on the road against a Top 15 ranked opponent.
Folks: *that* is restoring confidence back into the program. That is gaining back the belief and trust. And today, on the field, you could see it. After the game, Brisker was asked about battling injuries throughout the game, with him saying that he wasn’t going to sit out because “we came back for a reason.” That quote tells you all you need to know about where this program is at, and the job Franklin has done to right the ship.