Big Ten Q&A: Penn State linebacker Jason Cabinda

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Big Ten Q&A: Penn State linebacker Jason Cabinda

Everyone talks about Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan being in the running for the Big Ten East title, but Penn State also still is in the mix. Linebacker Jason Cabinda knows it. And, he’s motivated by it.

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Win out over visiting Michigan this Saturday and at Michigan State on Nov. 28, plus see Ohio State lose its final two games (Michigan State; at Michigan), and the Nittany Lions would be headed to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game for the first time.

Cabinda and the Penn State defense have been the backbone of a 7-3 team (4-2 Big Ten) that is in its second season under James Franklin. The 6-1, 245-pound Cabinda leads Penn State in tackles with 71 for a defense that is No. 4 in the Big Ten (311.2 ypg).

I caught up with Cabinda, a sophomore from Flemington, N.J., as he prepped to play Michigan this Saturday after Penn State had a bye last week.

Q: What did you do during your bye week?
A: I went home, saw my Mom, my sister, watched my high school team play Friday night.

Q: What is your role on the defense?
A: I have had to do a lot of things. I moved from the outside to the inside after Nyeem’s (Wartman-White) injury (in the opener which ended his season). I have become a more vocal guy. I am the guy making the calls and checks, so I have had to be more of a leader. I think I have adjusted well and improved each game and will continue to do so.

Q: Do you think you’ll stay in the middle for good?
A: I am not sure. I am learning the defense and all three linebacking spots. I am willing to play any of the three. Whatever is in the best interest of the team.

Q: Do you like playing in the middle or do you want to move back outside?
A: I like the middle. I have adjusted well and am starting to feel more comfortable. But if I had to move back to Will (weak-side linebacker), I would be willing to.

Q: What are your best assets?
A: I think I am a smart linebacker. I play physical. I think instinctual I have been able to stand out. Those instincts have been able to carry me. I also think I have good pursuit. That is something I picked up from (former Penn State linebacker) Mike Hull. You go 110 percent every play. He always did that, always pursuing the ball wherever it was. He was always by the ball. I have tried to integrate that into my game, the way I run to the ball and my effort each play.

Q: What does it mean to be a linebacker at Penn State?
A: This is Linebacker U. It is special. It’s a tradition and something we take great pride in. Playing physical, great effort. And off the field, being good people and having good character, being involved in the community. There are so many things that being a linebacker at Penn State means. Coach (Bob) Shoop (defensive coordinator) and Coach (Brent) Pry (co-DC and LB coach) take pride in our defense and the fact we are Linebacker U.

Q: What are you guys feeding end Carl Nassib? The guy has become a monster.
A: That kid is just a beast. He is a monster. We saw flashes last year. And he really came on in the spring. We knew he was going to be a big deal this season back then. He is playing just like we all thought he would. He is having an All-American year, and that is a testament to his hard work. Paying attention to detail, his technique … the way he works is a great example for others.

Q: Who is the toughest guy to tackle on your team?
A: Saquon Barkley worked his way up in camp and would be the hardest to tackle. He does a really good job of making people miss. He has big, strong legs, makes really good jump cuts. Good speed on the edge.

Q: You play Michigan this week. What do you think of what you have seen from the Wolverines so far this season?
A: They are a good team. They have a lot of fight in them. They came away with a double-overtime win last week. They have been able to grind out some good wins. Their defense is playing really well. And their offense is looking good. They have had a lot of guys step up. Their receivers have been the backbone for their offense.

Q: You know there’s a scenario where Penn State still can win the East? You have to win your last two games (Michigan; at Michigan State) and Ohio State has to lose its last two (Michigan State; at Michigan).
A: Yes, absolutely. And that’s the goal.

***

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