The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Sports

November 7, 2012

Penn State prospers on the road

STATE COLLEGE — Somehow, some way, there’s no letdown for Penn State away from Happy Valley.

Three Big Ten games away from home, three blowouts.

But after scoring big wins at Illinois, Iowa and plunging Purdue on the road, the surprising Nittany Lions will encounter their biggest road test of the season Saturday with a trip to No. 18 Nebraska.

“We’ve been playing well on the road I’d say because it just eliminates the distractions for us,” linebacker Michael Mauti said Tuesday. “Because all we need are the guys on the bus and the guys in the locker room.

“We create our own energy.”

Distractions have been plentiful for Penn State (6-3, 4-1) over the past year. It’s a year to the week that a child sex abuse scandal was ignited by the arrest of ex-assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, plunging one of the country’s marquee football programs into turmoil.

But the resulting NCAA sanctions from the scandal haven’t dampened the team’s enthusiasm.

If anything, first-year coach Bill O’Brien has his team even more motivated to play every Saturday – even though both a conference title and bowl bid are out of reach. One of O’Brien’s favorite sayings this year is “Every game is a big game.”

“Some games we always wish that we could have back. We wish we could have coached better, played better, but when you have 12 opportunities, every single game is a big game,” O’Brien said. “This game is no bigger than any other game; it’s just another big game, against a very, very good team.”

The Nittany Lions are still eligible to win the Leaders Division title, though those hopes took a serious hit with the 35-23 loss two weeks ago to No. 5 Ohio State.

But Penn State bounced back last week with a 34-9 win over Purdue. If anything, the off-the-field stress of the last year has helped train Penn State to stay focused on what they can control – what happens on the field.

“It doesn’t matter what goes on around you,” Mauti said. “It’s all about staying focused and ignoring the things that don’t have to do with football.”

Mauti is the heart of a staunch defense that has had strong play all year from the front seven. Penn State, though, may not have standout defensive tackle Jordan Hill, who is listed as day-to-day with a left knee injury suffered against Purdue.

Mauti said Hill was feeling well and that the tackle was “itching to play” in what would be the last collegiate road game for Mauti, Hill and the other Penn State seniors. O’Brien said a final determination would be made later in the week on whether Hill would be able to play at Nebraska.

For all the attention on the front seven this year, the secondary has gradually improved its play this year after getting picked apart early in the season on third downs.

The unit came up with perhaps its best performance of the year last week.

Against the Boilermakers, cornerbacks Adrian Amos and Stephon Morris contained Purdue’s screen game with sure, open-field tackling, backed by safeties Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong.

It looks like “Linebacker U” is pretty comfortable now with the more aggressive schemes introduced by veteran defensive coordinator Ted Roof, in his first season at Penn State.

“I wouldn’t say it took me a long time to learn the schemes, but it took me a while to get comfortable with the defense,” said Morris, who was moved from the boundary cornerback spot to the field corner spot in the offseason.

The defense needs to be at its best to win at Nebraska, a site that figures to have a much different atmosphere than the ones encountered by Penn State at struggling Illinois and Purdue.

Either way, all three Big Ten road wins this season have been by at least 23 points. The key in each case has been Penn State’s ability to jump out to big leads that have dampened crowd enthusiasm by halftime.

“Nebraska-Penn State, that’s what college football is all about,” O’Brien said. “You have two big-time college football programs that have two good coaching staffs and a lot of good players playing in a great game in Lincoln. That atmosphere, hopefully it’s fun.”

It will be even more fun for the Nittany Lions if they’re able to fly back home Saturday night celebrating another “W.”

Notes: O’Brien said TE Kyle Carter is day-to-day. Carter, Penn State’s second leading receiver with 35 catches and 441 yards, missed the win over Purdue after spraining his left ankle against Ohio State. Asked how involved Hill and Carter have been at practice, O’Brien would only say “they’ve been able to do some things.” ... Zack Zwinak had his third 100-yard game of the season after rushing for 134 on 21 carries against the Boilermakers. And he is now listed atop the tailback depth chart along with Bill Belton, who started this year as the starting tailback but was slowed by an ankle injury. O’Brien said the competition for carries is still week-to-week depending on who does well in practice. “Everything you get is earned,” O’Brien said. “ It’s earned on the practice field.” ... Backup RB Curtis Dukes is out with an undisclosed head injury. The junior was hurt while covering the opening kickoff last week.

 

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Sports
  • Penguins 0419 Blue Jackets outlast Pens in double-OT

    Matt Calvert banged home a rebound 1:10 into the second overtime and the Columbus Blue Jackets earned the first playoff victory in franchise history with a 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.
    Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury stuffed the initial shot by Cam Atkinson but Calvert stood all alone at the left post and wristed a shot into the open net to even the Eastern Conference quarterfinals at one game each.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Pirates 0419 Brewers rally to clip Pirates

    Ryan Braun hit two homers, including a two-run shot with two outs in the ninth inning that sent the Milwaukee Brewers over the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-7 Saturday night.
    Braun has five home runs this season after being suspended for the last 65 games of 2013 following Major League Baseball’s investigation into the Biogenesis drug scandal.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Area runners gearing for Boston Marathon

    The time was 12:15 p.m. It was Monday April 19, 1897.  Tom Burke had drawn a line across the dirt road with his foot. Eighteen men gathered near Metcalf’s Mill in Ashland, Massachusetts.

    April 19, 2014

  • SRU vs UPJ baseball0418 1 UPJ takes one, drops second

    John Fees’ spring baseball season accurately mirrors that of his Pitt-Johnstown team.
    Fees started slow, losing his first four decisions, but has rebounded nicely in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division.

    April 18, 2014 2 Photos

  • Pirates 0418 Brewers ward off late Pirates rally bid

    Kyle Lohse pitched effectively into the seventh inning, Carlos Gomez homered and the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-3 Friday night.
    Lohse (3-1) improved to 11-2 in his career against the Pirates, allowing one earned run in a win against them for the second time in six days.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Drama lacking sans Tiger

    If professional golf saw its future at Augusta National last weekend, the sight had to be worse than choking on a 5-foot putt.
    The course was there in all its splendor.

    April 18, 2014

  • Penguins 0418 Penguins are wary of spunky Blue Jackets

    Sidney Crosby is used to the attention. It comes with the territory when you’re the best hockey player in the world.
    Still, the Pittsburgh Penguins star knows the spotlight becomes more acute in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Pirates 0417 Pirates power past Brewers

    Andrew McCutchen hit his first homer of the season and drove in three runs, Pedro Alvarez had a three-run shot and pinch-hitter Josh Harrison broke a tie with a long ball in the seventh inning as the Pittsburgh Pirates handed the Milwaukee Brewers their first road loss, 11-2 on Thursday night.
    Harrison’s two-run drive down the left field line off Rob Wooten (0-1) was the second of his career as a pinch hitter.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Penguins 0417 Jackets preparing for Game 2

    The Columbus Blue Jackets don’t feel they’re doomed after blowing a two-goal lead in a Game 1 loss of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
    “It’s not about missed chances, or feeling sorry about it,” goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky said at Thursday’s optional workout, 13 hours after falling 4-3 in Pittsburgh.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Local Sports Briefs

    April 17, 2014