Every time he prepares to play a spread-the-field-horizontally opponent such as Indiana, Glenn Carson ponders football in a different era.
Carson plays middle linebacker, a once-glamor position altered by offenses attempting to neutralize stout interior defenders. Instead of stuffing dive and draw plays originating from power formations, Carson spends large portions of his Saturdays chasing lithe receivers and tailbacks.
Exterior football isn’t Carson’s preferred style of play. But he understands chasing players from sideline-to-sideline represents part of his job description as Penn State’s middle linebacker.
“I think I was born in the wrong era,” he said. “I wish I was born in 1980 or something, where they just pound the ball every day.”
Carson isn’t expecting a throwback game today. The Hoosiers average 42.8 passing plays per game. They average 33.8 running plays, which ranks 11th in the Big Ten.
Indiana’s penchant for playing toward the sidelines should give outside linebackers Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti ample big-play opportunities. The Hoosiers join Purdue, Ohio State, Northwestern and Ohio University on the growing list of teams running spread offenses appearing on Penn State schedules.
“It’s tough, especially this year because teams have been trying to get the ball to the outside, running a lot of bubble screen passes toward the sideline,” Carson said. “Not too many teams besides Nebraska tried to run the ball on us. It’s a little bit frustrating just because I love playing the run so much.”
Take away the result — Penn State fell 32-23 — and the Nebraska game epitomized the type of afternoon Carson relishes. With heavy winds making it difficult to pass, the Cornhuskers attempted nearly three times as many running (57) as passing (20) plays.
Nebraska ran left and right. The Cornhuskers also ran straight ahead, which allowed Carson to register a career-high 14 tackles.
The performance propelled the youngest of Penn State’s three starting linebackers into a spotlight he hasn’t entered often this season. Carson, a junior, is surrounded by Hodges and Mauti, a pair play-making, headline-grabbing seniors.
Hodges and Mauti are semifinalists for the Butkus Award. Both players are poised to eclipse 100 tackles. Carson ranks third on the team with 65 tackles. In keeping with his throwback ways, Carson said he’s unaffected by the volume of publicity he receives. Carson owns a Twitter account, but he hasn’t posted anything since July.
“To be honest, I don’t pay any mind to media,” he said. “I very rarely read articles about myself or about the team. I kind of like to see things from my own perspective. I think that’s just the best way. I don’t like reading other people’s opinions about how our team is doing and about how players are doing. I kind of zone all that stuff out anyway.”
Linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden is a man who’s opinion Carson values. Vanderlinden said Carson, a two-year starter, brings many endearing qualities to the defense, including a solid work ethic. Before becoming a full-time football player, Carson reached the New Jersey state wrestling final three times, winning a 215-pound title as a senior. The 6-foot-3 Carson has bulked-up to 235 pounds.
“When you think of Glenn Carson, just think of the state champion wrestler from New Jersey and that says it all,” Vanderlinden said. “Tough, hard-nosed, loves to compete, loves work, very prideful, extremely prideful of performance almost to fault. He’s so hard on himself. He’s a guy I have to be careful that I don’t overcoach him because he gets so hard on himself.”
Carson’s frustration level might swell today, especially if Indiana’s offensive approach resembles the one it demonstrated in its first 10 games.
“You can’t really change,” he said. “You have to be a little bit better in the pass game, a little bit lighter on your feet and just hustle when teams are trying to throw the ball to the sidelines. You will make some tackles based on just hustling to the ball.”
Follow Guy Cipriano on Twitter @cdtguy.