Late in the third quarter of Penn State’s matchup with Georgia State, the game’s outcome had long been determined. But James Franklin was far from finished evaluating his squad.
Franklin began to call names further down on his depth chart, offering a glimpse of the depth he’s touted so highly throughout preseason camp and into the nonconference portion of the schedule.
The results were impressive, especially on the defensive line. But based on the philosophy of defensive line coach Sean Spencer, the Nittany Lions were just living up to expectations.
“Coach Spencer always says no matter who we put in the game, we expect the same from you, whether you’re the starter or the fourth-stringer,” said defensive end Shareef Miller. “I think it was real good that they held on [to the shutout]. They did real well.”
Redshirt freshman defensive end Daniel Joseph, whose name does not appear on Penn State’s official three-deep, came in the game and notched 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. Shaka Toney and Antonio Shelton, both also redshirt freshmen, each added another half a sack, while Toney forced another fumble.
“I don’t think there is any doubt when you’re able to get guys a bunch of reps in the third quarter, not just the fourth quarter, is really valuable,” coach James Franklin said. “I talk about it not only from a player development standpoint but also make the argument of having a healthy locker room. The more guys that you have involved and you’re able to watch tape with on Sunday and grade their tape and grade their performance is valuable, it’s really valuable.”
Asked which of the younger players they thought made the greatest impact, many Penn State veterans had difficulty choosing just one.
Visibly excited about the potential shown by his counterparts in the trenches, safety Marcus Allen offered glowing praised of the unit’s depth as whole.
“I’m just saying, the D-Line, they all are crazy, like really, really good,” Allen said. “Yetur [Gross-Matos], he’s really good. Shane Simmons . . . There’s so many guys that we have that contribute to success, and they’re all willing to learn, so that’s really good.”
Sparsely used throughout the first two years of his college career, linebacker Brandon Smith can attest to the value of the experience gained by younger players on Saturday.
When he considers how they’ve performed thus far in practice, though, Smith wasn’t surprised by the in-game production of Penn State’s young defensive lineman.
“As a whole, they’re doing a lot of good things,” Smith said.”Two guys that stick out at defensive end are Shaka and Yetur. They’re doing a lot of good things getting to the passer in practice and in the games, really fast guys. They have a lot of great potential.”
Of course, the defensive line isn’t the only place where Penn State’s youth left its mark Saturday night.
True freshman Tariq Castro-Fields came up with his first career interception, marking the third Penn State interception of the evening.
“It’s nice to get them out there, get experience,” safety Troy Apke said. “Tariq with his first interception, I could see he was happy about that. We were all happy about that. It’s nice to get them out there and get experience.
“He’s been working hard, every practice, every day. And it’s paying off for him.”
For a Nittany Lion program swelling with young talent, it's an investment their hoping to see pay dividends now and into the future.