Penn State football: Nittany Lion defense upholds its end of bargain

Brandon Bell came in first with the wrap-up. Mike Hull followed with a bone-jarring hit that knocked the football loose.

After Hull and Bell combined to stop Nebraska quarterback Ron Kellogg III at the goal line late in the fourth quarter at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, Glenn Carson swooped in for congratulatory helmet slaps.

Not only did the vicious collision at the goal line have Carson as fired up as he’s been all season, but it forced Nebraska to settle for a field goal that tied the game.

Maybe one day it will be on one of the cut-up tapes Penn State linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden shows to young players? Maybe a few more from the final home game of the season will make the cut?

Carson and his teammates think so.

“Definitely some of the plays our linebackers made today are going to make a cut-up and hopefully guys (after) us are going to see that and learn from it and hopefully emulate how we played,” Carson said. “Our linebackers played a tremendous game today.”

Penn State came up with timely stops as the Nittany Lion defense forced nine Nebraska punts and two more turnovers.

Nebraska’s quarterbacks Kellogg and Tommy Armstrong Jr. didn’t have much time to throw as they faced a revolving line of pressure from Penn State’s defensive line and linebackers. C.J. Olaniyan added a forced fumble and fumble recovery while Adrian Amos and Olaniyan notched sacks.

“I think the defense played a good game,” Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said. “Obviously, offensively we did well in spots but in other spots didn’t do so good so we didn’t hold up our end of the bargain.”

Penn State’s rugged group of linebackers — that has dealt with dwindling bodies and depth issues as injuries have taken their toll — were up to the task. And on third downs, Penn State linebackers were difference-makers.

Hull, Carson, Bell and Nyeem Wartman combined for 26 tackles with six of those coming on third downs to force Nebraska punts. Carson broke up a pass intended for Kenny Bell over the middle in the fourth quarter. Bell had plenty of room had Carson not knocked the ball away.

“Our linebackers played a great game today,” sophomore cornerback Jordan Lucas said. “They were very physical, they read their keys, they knew what was coming and when they got to the ball they were angry. They did what linebackers were supposed to do.”

While Hull and Carson combined for four third-down stops, Bell made his biggest play of the season when he stepped into the hole on a third-and-goal from Penn State’s five-yard line and wrapped up Kellogg to take away a Nebraska scoring chance.

This season has been one of learning for Bell, who has had to learn the dos and do-nots of linebacking at this level on the fly.

A true freshman, Bell was forced into action as injuries mounted early. Injuries to Hull, Wartman, Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Ben Kline left the coaching staff looking for another option at linebacker. Bell showed them glimpses he could be that option and hasn’t disappointed lately.

His six-tackle effort against Nebraska followed a three-tackle game against Purdue. Obeng-Agyapong said he’s noticed Bell has grown more aggressive as the season’s wore on.

“Brandon Bell’s been there all season even if you guys have seen it or not,” Obeng-Agyapong said. “In practice he’s been doing that. He’s a real smart guy. He makes up with that for his size... “He’s not the biggest of the linebackers but he knows what he’s doing when he gets out there and he has the abilities to make plays.”