With wit and athleticism, Shaka Toney produces dominance for Penn State
Before he even played a snap, Shaka Toney began telling his teammates he was in for a big day.
On film, Toney saw that Purdue right tackle Will Bramel tended to set his feet in a way that made him vulnerable to a speed rush — one of Toney’s strengths.
“If he’s feet aren’t wide enough, I know I’m going to blow past him on the speed rush,” Micah Parsons recalled Toney saying earlier in the week.
Things turned out almost exactly as Toney visualized.
Time after time, Toney came around the Boilermaker edge. A blue No. 18 jersey became a fixture in Purdue’s backfield, and it turned the Boilermakers’ offense into a disorganized mess.
Along the way, Toney sacked Purdue quarterback Jack Plummer three times. That alone left a massive imprint on the game — but it also forced Purdue to make adjustments that left the Boilermakers vulnerable in other areas along the line of scrimmage.
A redshirt freshman playing without superstar wideout Rondale Moore, Plummer just wasn’t equipped to handle what Penn State’s defensive front threw at him.
The result was a 10-sack shallacking from the Nittany Lions, just one shy of Penn State’s single-game record, set in an 11-sack performance at Illinois in 1999.
“I do think [Toney] set the tone,” James Franklin said after the game. “When you can beat someone like that, it gets in their head and creates some confidence issues.”
Toney’s perfect pre-game prognostication about his dominant performance likely wouldn’t surprise Franklin, who called Toney one of the most cerebral players on Penn State’s roster.
Lamont Wade said Toney makes a habit out of watching film and studying techniques, and that in turn gives Toney a greater understanding of schemes than most players.
“He always has his input,” Wade said.
Even for Wade, whose responsibilities in the secondary share very little in common with Toney’s tasks on the defensive line, Toney has become a resource.
Wade will often move from safety into the ‘Star’ position, where he’s liable to blitz a bit more than normal, when Penn State plays packages with five defensive backs.
Toney’s understanding of pass rush techniques is so complete that he can help guide Wade through those situations.
“He knows everything about the pass rush, the Do’s and the Don’ts,” Wade said. “He helps me out a lot with everything.”
Combine all that knowledge with Toney’s physical gifts, and you’ve got a recipe for this kind of dominance.
There’s something about the state of Indiana that primes Toney for an explosive game, too. Between Saturday’s three sacks against Purdue and a four-sack game against Indiana last season, seven of his 13.5 career sacks have now come against teams from the Hoosier State.
If Toney can produce this way against teams that don’t wear Candy Stripes or Black and Gold, an already stout Penn State defensive line will acquire a new dimension.
“It makes us want to play even hungrier when we’re getting after the quarterback,” Jesse Luketa said.