Penn State Football

Brandon Smith’s interception sparks defense

Penn State linebacker Brandon Smith talks to a teammate between plays during practice on Wednesday, September 28, 2016.
Penn State linebacker Brandon Smith talks to a teammate between plays during practice on Wednesday, September 28, 2016.

Before each game, Brandon Smith’s wife asks him if he’s going to score a touchdown.

Smith, a middle linebacker, just laughs it off. The possibility of that happening is slim-to-none.

Well on Saturday, he came pretty close.

In Penn State’s 62-24 beatdown of Purdue at Ross-Ade Stadium, the No. 24 Nittany Lions were highlighted by their offense, particularly Saquon Barkley and his 277 all-purpose yards.

But if not for Smith and the Penn State defense, the second half might not have been so seemingly easy on the Nittany Lions.

Penn State (6-2, 4-1 Big Ten) was deadlocked with Purdue at halftime 17-17, due in large part to shaky defense and consistent discipline issues. Arm tackles hurt the defensive unit, as did several penalties.

After allowing 210 first-half yards, Penn State looked vulnerable after a ferocious performance in its upset over Ohio State the week prior.

Middle linebacker Jason Cabinda wasn’t overly concerned.

“Knowing that we didn’t play too well in the first half and that we still had an opportunity to salvage this game was awesome,” the junior said. “And that’s what we did. We came out in that second half, and kind of put them away.”

It started with Smith’s interception — a pick that was fluky by nature.

Smith, Cabinda’s backup, wasn’t supposed to be in the game for the second half’s first drive. However, his teammate’s helmet was broken, and he had to step in.

Cabinda, after realizing his facemask was bent in the first quarter, went over to Penn State equipment manager Jay Takach after the second half opening kickoff.

“He’s like, ‘Yeah, you can’t go out there with that,’” Cabinda said with a smile.

So Smith had to run out there and cover for him.

“I got to give thanks to (Cabinda),” Smith said with a laugh.

On 3rd-and-3 at Purdue’s 42-yard line, Smith crept close to the line of scrimmage. He stuck close to the center until just before the snap.

“I tried to hold it in there so the quarterback wouldn’t see me,” he said.

Smith popped back into coverage, the Penn State rush forced a quick throw by Purdue quarterback David Blough, and Smith was there to pick it off.

And he continued to move.

Smith hauled in the pick at the Purdue 45-yard line and proceeded to run over a couple Boilermakers before being pushed out-of-bounds at the 24-yard line.

Cabinda, who is wearing a club cast on his left hand due to a previous injury, celebrated on the sidelines with the rest of his teammates — and was somewhat thankful he wasn’t out there.

“I mean that’s just God’s work,” Cabinda said. “I’m wearing that club. Who knows if I would’ve came down with it?”

He didn’t have to worry about any what-ifs. Smith made the play that started the Penn State avalanche.

Not only did Penn State’s offense capitalize with a touchdown, but it was also the first of four forced turnovers by the Nittany Lions.

In a game tied at halftime that ended up being such an absurd blowout, it was one catch by a linebacker that helped it happen — even if he didn’t score a touchdown.

“I tried my hardest,” Smith said with a smile.

Maybe next time.

John McGonigal: 814-231-4630, @jmcgonigal9