The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

November 24, 2012

Penn State notebook: Closing statement for Lions defense

Associated Press

STATE COLLEGE — Wisconsin’s first two drives of the game produced two touchdowns and a 14-7 lead. Its next eight possessions ended in punts.

In that span of possessions, Penn State was able to erase the Badgers’ seven-point lead, pulling ahead 21-14.

So, what changed?

“Two things happened. We were able to get on the perimeter and edges and then they widened their technique, playing outside in. We never really got back on rhythm,” Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said.

“I thought there were quite a few critical third-down drops. We had some guys who were open in that stretch. In that second-to-third-quarter stretch, there were some third-down hits where guys just dropped the ball.”

Badger running back Montee Ball gained 45 yards in the first quarter and only 66 in the next three and overtime. He said the Nittany Lions change in defensive technique made it much harder to gain ground.

“We kept running outside, outside and then they widened their (defensive) ends and forced us inside, obviously, to their best player, Jordan Hill,” he said. “It obviously worked.”

Numbers game: In a move no one outside of the Nittany Lions inner circle knew was coming, Penn State played Saturday’s game with the No. 42 on their helmets.

The last time the Nittany Lions plain, white helmets had numbers on them was 1974, when each player’s helmet was adorned with his jersey number.

It was a tribute to sidelined linebacker Michael Mauti, who injured his left knee on Nov. 17 against Indiana.

Fellow seniors Michael Zordich and Jordan Hill came up with the idea. Mauti didn’t know about it until he walked into the locker room Saturday morning.

“I was right there with him when it happened. He was emotional,” Zordich said. “It means a lot to him and to us to have that number on the helmet. If there’s a number that belongs on the helmet, that’s the one.”

In another tribute to Mauti, fellow senior linebacker Gerald Hodges wore Mauti’s No. 42 jersey, only with Hodges’ name on the back.

Ever since the NCAA announced unprecedented sanctions against Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, Mauti has taken the lead as one of the team’s outspoken leaders.

“There are not too many guys who play the game with the type of passion and mean as much as they do to the guys they’re playing with. He’s all that and more. He’s just a guy that leader is an understatement for him,” Zordich said.

“He’s somebody I’ve looked up to and somebody that has gotten me through some things and I’ve gotten him through some things,” he added. “It was an honor to have his number on our helmet.”

Milestone man: Sophomore RB Zach Zwinak finished with exactly 1,000 yards on the season after finishing with 179 yards on 36 carries Saturday night. ... WR Allen Robinson became only the second receiver in Penn State history to eclipse 1,000 yards on the season. Robinson finished with 1,013 yards and 11 touchdowns on 77 catches after getting four receptions on 35 yards against Wisconsin. Bobby Engram is the only other receiver to go over 1,000 yards, both in 1994 and 1995.