Longa leading Rutgers’ defense and Big Ten in tackles
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) Rutgers doesn’t lead the Big Ten Conference in many statistics in football, except tackles. That’s where linebacker Steve Longa stands alone.
With 85 tackles, Longa leads the Big Ten in tackles in all games and his 54 top the league in conference games. He is tied for first nationally with 8.0 solo tackles per game and is ranked second nationally at 12.1 tackles per game.
Longa had career-high 16 tackles against Indiana two weeks ago and topped that with 19 tackles against No. 1 Ohio State on Saturday. He’s on pace for 146 tackles this season as Rutgers (3-4, 1-3 Big Ten) prepares for Wisconsin (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten) on Saturday.
Longa says there is a simple explanation for his recent success.
”By my team doing what they’re supposed to do and them doing their job and me doing my job,” he said. ”Doing my job gets me to the ball and once I get to the ball, I have to make a play. That’s it.”
Longa is well on his way to his third 100-tackle season – something only done at Rutgers by Tyrone Stowe.
Stowe is Rutgers’ career leader in tackles and had 100 tackles in all four seasons. He notched 27 tackles against West Virginia in 1988, a school record.
It’s no shock Longa is having such a successful season, given his play the past two years. He is the weakside linebacker, which is the playmaking position on Rutgers’ defense. Khaseem Greene was the Big East Defensive Player of the Year two years in a row at that spot a few years ago.
”I’m not surprised about the production that’s been happening because I feel like my coaches have set me up in a great place to make all those plays,” Longa said. ”The work I’ve been putting in one-on-on with (linebacker) Coach (Bob) Fraser trying to understand the game of football itself and then trying to understand our defense part by part.
”Cut it down, simplify it and understand everybody’s job. That has helped me because a better linebacker because I’m still learning the game.”
He went from not having a playbook in high school, playing a single coverage, to the complexities of a college defense.
”I get here and I have cover 6, cover 2, all these blitz packages, it gets crazy,” Longa said. ”So having to learn that and adjust to it, sometimes it makes you a worse football player, sometimes it brings the best out of you. I guess it brought the best out of me.”
And it goes beyond the 6-foot-1, 225-pounder’s skill set. Longa credits his love for watching film, understanding not only his position, but also the job of the other 10 defenders.
He’s on pace to shatter his previous high of 123 tackles in a season, but Longa isn’t concerned about stats.
”I don’t measure it by numbers,” he said. ”I measure it by understanding the game and learning the game. When you put on that film from whichever team we played last year and then you put on that same exact film this year and compare both of them you see the reaction time and the first step and the fits. That’s how I measure if I got better or not.”