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Jason Cabinda wants it to be clear that playing middle linebacker is difficult. Being the quarterback of the defense, it's not as easy as some might think it looks.
It's not just having a nose for the ball carrier and colliding into oncoming offensive linemen. Instincts come into play. Play recognition, even reading the demeanor and body language of the opponent across the line of scrimmage, finding cues and precursors for the next play – all of it makes it a much more difficult job than what some might give it credit for, or what first meets the eye.
But on Saturday night against Indiana, in front of more than 107,000 fans in Beaver Stadium, Penn State's senior middle linebacker had it all fall into place. For the first time in 2017, Cabinda felt as though he played his most complete game and it came during a 45-14 win over the Hooisers.
"I ended up finding a good groove there and I got comfortable there, so it was good," he said. "I was waiting for that. I hadn't really felt that way this season so far."
When the final minutes ticked off the clock, it was Cabinda who led Penn State in tackles. Finishing with 14, he tied his own career-high for the most in a game, knotting a mark he set as a sophomore at home against Army.
Entering this weekend's matchup against Indiana, he was second on the team in total tackles and two shy of Marcus Allen's team-leading number. With Allen tallying six against Indiana, Penn State now has a new tackle leader after the first five games of the season. That's Cabinda.
Six of Cabinda's 14 stops happened on his own. He also tallied a sack that resulted in a 10-yard loss and combined on a tackle for negative yardage. He also recovered a fumble that he returned for 4 yards. His effort gave Penn State field position at the Indiana 39-yard line and then six plays later the offense punched it in for a score to take an initial 14-0 lead with still more than 11 minutes left in the first quarter.
It helped set a tone for a defensive effort that limited Indiana to just two touchdowns, which is three fewer than the Hoosiers' season average entering the game. PSU also held Indiana 50 yards below its average of total offense.
More than his individual stats, more than how comfortable he felt out there today, those team statistics are what Cabinda, the defensive captain, prides himself on.
While he wants to lead the team and post a pile of tackles, he cares more about total yardage, turnover margin – of which PSU once again held an advantage, 4-1 – and field position. But even those statistics come second to wins and losses, and on Saturday night against the Hoosiers Cabinda was able to bask in it all.
"It doesn't really matter as long as we play the best we can," he said. "I think that's the best thing about this team: We're selfless. It doesn't matter who gets the credit, doesn't matter who's making the plays, making the tackles, who's making the plays and scoring the touchdowns. Everyone is pulling the rope in the same direction."