Penn State Nittany Lions: Football

Lunchtime links

February, 4, 2014
Feb 4
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T-19 hours until fax machines have a purpose again.

Lunchtime links

January, 21, 2014
Jan 21
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Feel the rhythm! Feel the rhyme! Get on up, it's bobsled time.

Big Ten lunchtime links

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
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Seriously though, give the guy back his cat.

Lunchtime links

December, 17, 2013
12/17/13
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If you're not rapping while wearing striped pajamas in your holiday card/video, you need to get on this family's level.

Big Ten lunchtime links

December, 10, 2013
12/10/13
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Paper. Snow. A GHOST!

Big Ten lunchtime links

December, 5, 2013
12/05/13
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Perhaps we could have a Big Ten-ACC Challenge in the title game? At least that one couldn't end in a tie.

Big Ten lunch links

November, 19, 2013
11/19/13
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How quickly it changed from cider to cocoa season.

Big Ten lunchtime links

November, 15, 2013
11/15/13
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TGIF. I just wish the TV version still existed.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 12

November, 14, 2013
11/14/13
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Storylines to watch in the Big Ten this weekend:

[+] EnlargePelini
Bruce Thorson/USA TODAY SportsNebraska is 7-0 against Michigan State, and Bo Pelini hopes to make that 8-0 and take a big step towards winning the Legends Division on Saturday.
1. The challenge at the top of the Legends Division: It’s going down in Lincoln, Neb. Michigan State travels south to try to close out the Legends race, while the Cornhuskers hope to crash that party. The Spartans are coming off a bye with an extra week to prep, but Nebraska has been the thorn in their side that they’ve just never been able to get out (Nebraska holds a 7-0 advantage over MSU). And expect the Huskers faithful to come out for this one, as a win could prove to be huge. If both teams win out, and it comes down to the head-to-head winner, the nod to face Ohio State would be given to Nebraska.

2. The challenge at the bottom of the Legends Division: And on the opposite end of that spectrum there’s the Northwestern-Michigan game. Two teams that were once thought of as top-25 teams are now fighting to find any kind of an identity while dwelling near the bottom/lower half of the Big Ten. The Wolverines have dropped three of their past four and the Wildcats have yet to win a conference game. This is a game for pride. This is a game featuring two teams desperate for a win. And the good news is -- one of these teams has to win. Northwestern had a week to heal its bodies (which it needed badly) and the Wolverines haven’t traveled well under Brady Hoke, which creates an interesting matchup.

3. Northwestern making a final push: Even with their Big Ten breakdown, the Wildcats are still just two wins away from being bowl eligible. They face Michigan and Michigan State at home and Illinois on the road. If there’s a time for Northwestern, it is now. Pulling wins out over Michigan and Illinois wouldn’t be too far-fetched in the Big Ten reality, and if Pat Fitzgerald can rally his troops, it could happen. Look for the possibility of a rejuvenated Wildcats team fighting for their postseason life -- that’s dangerous.

4. Teams running wild: Several games this weekend feature intriguing matchups in the run game. There are two games that have lopsided advantages for the run game. Penn State’s Bill Belton will have the chance to find holes in Purdue’s (very holey) defense. The Boilermakers have the second-worst rushing defense in the Big Ten, allowing 224 yards per game. Their rushing defense is only better than Illinois’. Which, speaking of that, the Illini’s conference-worst run defense will face the conference-best rushing attack in Ohio State, which averages 301 yards per game.

Also keep an eye on the running backs in Nebraska-Michigan State. The Spartans will attempt to keep Ameer Abdullah quiet, but the Big Ten’s leading rusher -- 135 yards per game -- will do his best to make sure that doesn’t happen. And on the opposite side, MSU running back Jeremy Langford will try to keep his breakout season on the upswing against a Cornhuskers defense that allowed minus-21 rushing yards to Michigan last weekend. And finally, Wisconsin and its exciting run game will face Indiana -- the No. 10 rushing defense in the conference.

5. Ohio State looks to make statements: The Buckeyes don’t have the best strength of schedule from here on out, so if they want to find themselves in the national title game, they need to make big statements in their remaining games. And the players have finally begun acknowledging that publicly. Ohio State has won its past three games by a combined score of 153-38. And with Illinois, Indiana and Michigan as its last three opponents, they could look to repeat those kind of performances.

6. Defenses maintaining momentum: Obviously, the Michigan State-Nebraska game will be one to watch (notice a trend here?). The Spartans’ top-ranked defense will look to contain the Cornhuskers, while Nebraska -- fresh off an impressive showing in which they delivered Hoke his first loss as head coach in Michigan Stadium -- will look to do the same. Ohio State will continue its rally cry that it’s not just an offensive team and the Badgers, the Big Ten’s No. 2 defense, will have the chance to face Indiana, which features an impressive offense of its own (at times).

7. Teams looking for crucial wins heading into dangerous territory: Road wins are key for every team. However, there are a few Big Ten teams hitting the road this weekend that need to find those road wins in volatile opposing stadiums. Indiana, which is two wins away from bowl eligibility with three games remaining, travels to Madison to play Wisconsin, which is never a friendly atmosphere. The Wolverines, who’ve struggled mightily on the road and haven’t looked like a complete team for more than a month, travel to Northwestern. Generally, NU features a heavy Michigan feel during that game but with the Wildcats’ recent push to be Chicago’s Big Ten team, this year could feature a different atmosphere. And the Spartans will attempt to seal up the Legends race in front of the “Sea of Red” in Memorial Stadium.

Penn State CB Lucas finding 'swagger'

November, 11, 2013
11/11/13
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Jordan Lucas' father and friends huddled around the basement television and leaned forward as if they were drawn to a warming campfire.

One man pointed at the No. 9 on TV, cackling while the Penn State sophomore walked to the sideline. "Oh God," a Corona-sipping man said to Lucas' father, Vincent, pointing and laughing away like old friends are wont to do. "There goes that Lucas swagger! Look -- he's walking with that bounce you walk with!"

[+] EnlargeJordan Lucas
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsSophomore Jordan Lucas has emerged as a leader in the Penn State secondary.
Vincent Lucas, 60, smiled and offered a hearty laugh. He knew that walk, that swagger, the way Jordan bobbed his head and seemed to glide while the defensive linemen plodded. He hadn't seen that walk all last season, but it was so obvious this time -- during PSU's 24-17 overtime victory against Illinois -- that even his friends picked up on it.

"Yeah," Vincent told him. "There he goes. He's in a zone right now; I can tell by the way he walks."

That walk was different last season, back when the cornerback mainly played special teams. Fans knew him only as the kid from prep school, if they knew him at all. But everyone knows Jordan Lucas and that swagger now.

He's a vocal leader on the secondary, the kid who'd toss on a winter jacket in high school and run on the sidewalks in December, even when flurries hit the streets of New Rochelle, N.Y. He's the defensive back who leads the team in interceptions (two), forced fumbles (two) and boasts 4.5 tackles for loss. He's one of the lone bright spots on an otherwise struggling defense, one of the first players to sprint out of the Beaver Stadium tunnel every home game.

"Jordan Lucas is one of the better football players on our team," Bill O'Brien said. "He brings a competitive toughness to our football team that I really like."

O'Brien leaned against the railing last year and overlooked the weight room on some days, as Lucas and former cornerback Stephon Morris took turns lifting barbells while most of their teammates slept. Morris awoke stiff on some mornings, tempted to pull the sheets over his head or hit "snooze," but he'd always receive a text or call from Jordan: "What're we doing today, Steph?"

"He just wouldn't stay away," Morris said with a laugh. "And I couldn't say no to him; I had to set an example. And he never missed a workout -- never. That's rare."

Jordan added to his work ethic, one he borrowed from a father who grew up on a North Carolina farm and fed the family pigs two hours before the school bell sounded. He evolved into one of the Nittany Lions' gym rats, a player who has still never missed a single optional workout. But teammate Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, who grew up 5 minutes from Lucas in the Bronx, knew something was amiss last year. So did Morris.

"I'm not going to lie," Morris said. "He didn't have any confidence."

Jordan saw time at cornerback on the final game of the year last season. Morris remembers his big eyes while Jordan can still recall standing on the sideline, growing more overwhelmed with every shoulder pat and motivating word his teammates would utter: "Get ready!" "You ready for this?" "C'mon, it's your turn!"

On a recent fall afternoon, when red and yellow leaves littered the pavement in front of the football building, Jordan at first insisted he didn't feel lost last season. After all, he was the talkative guy now. He was the player that true freshman Jordan Smith looked up to like a big brother; he was a big reason Penn State's defense wasn't in total disarray.

But, a few minutes later, he relented. With a varsity jacket zipped up near his chin, he admitted -- despite how far along he is today -- that he was overwhelmed at times last year. He had lost that swagger, misplaced somewhere between the transition of college and watching his work ethic exceed his production.

"I've always been the same dude but, freshman year, it just didn't feel like I was playing high school football again. It actually felt like college football," Lucas said. "Now? The college game has slowed down a bit. It feels closer to the high school game again. I didn't feel like that same Jordan last year; I do now."

Added Vincent: "He was a little bit intimidated about the whole thing [last year], more than he let on."

[+] EnlargeJordan Lucas
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAYJordan Lucas has two interceptions and 4.5 tackles for loss in 2013.
But there was a bridge between the Lucas of today and the Lucas of last year, and it was built on a heartfelt talk with his father on a nippy January morning. At Jordan's request, Vincent had awoken while the moon still hung in the sky and drove four hours to The Waffle Shop, a Penn State staple with salmon-trimmed tables and fliers taped in columns over the windows.

Between bites of pancakes, bacon and homefries, Jordan told his father he just didn't feel the same. He did what he always did -- running in the snow, training on the field over the offseason, reclining in his usual film-room seat -- but he was no longer the strongest or fastest or most athletic. Vincent leaned in and whispered that his only enemies were time and experience, not skill or talent. With Morris' departure, now was the time to step up. Now was the time to to put that mindset behind him, work even harder and let his talent catch up with his work ethic.

"You may not be the best, but you can always be the hardest worker," Jordan told ESPN.com. "That's what Coach [John] Butler -- and my dad -- always tell me."

By June, Jordan had become the unquestioned starter at cornerback. By October, that swagger had strolled on back to Jordan's step; he had become one of the defense's top players. He has recorded interceptions in two of the last four games, and Morris still calls him every week to remind him he's the team's top defensive back right now -- and to keep acting like it.

Just like Vincent and his friends, Morris notices that swagger to his step now. And now that the walk, that confidence, has returned, Jordan is looking forward. When asked about what's next, Jordan looked directly ahead and spoke with the conviction of a man who already has seen his future.

"I'm not going to stop. I look at it like this, there's no ceiling for me," he said. "I want to keep going and, hey, maybe one day there will be a ceiling. But, even then, I'm never going to tell myself that. Each day I'm going to get better. Each day I'm going to give my best."
Allen Robinson moved to the top of the Penn State record books.

The junior wide receiver set the Nittany Lions' single-season receiving record in the fourth quarter of the Minnesota game on a 12-yard pass from Christian Hackenberg. He moved past Bobby Engram, who set the long-standing mark of 1,084 yards back in 1995.

Entering the game, Robinson needed just 42 yards to surpass the milestone. He finished the game with seven catches for 63 yards.

He now holds the school's single-season records for both receiving yards and receptions. He broke the receptions record (77) last season, and h'es on pace to break that again this season.

"I don't try to pay too much attention to it," Robinson said earlier this week, regarding the records. "But it's a good honor."

Heading into the Minnesota game, he averaged 10 catches and 149 yards in Big Ten games and was ranked fourth nationally with 1,043 yards. He's accounting for about 48 percent of the passing offense.

He'll still need one more season to catch up to Engram's record for career receiving yards (3,026), but he could choose to leave for the NFL. Robinson said that's something he'll discuss with the coaching staff once the season's over.

Big Ten lunchtime links

November, 5, 2013
11/05/13
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There is a colonial woman on the wing. There is something they're not telling us.

Five things: Illinois at Penn State

November, 2, 2013
11/02/13
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The best way to move past a 63-14 loss is a win. It's as simple and as difficult as that.

The good news for Penn State is that Illinois has surrendered 137 points in the last three games, and the Nittany Lions remain the double-digit favorite. But, still, there's still a question of whether Penn State can move past last Saturday's loss.

A win here shows Penn State is down but not out. A loss? Well, that anonymous criticism Bill O'Brien hates so much certainly isn't going to get any quieter. Here are five things to keep an eye on:

1. How will this defense rebound? Last week's 63-14 embarrassment at Ohio State is likely still in the back of this defense's collective mind. They missed tackles, missed assignments and missed any chance of keeping that game close. There's not just one thing to watch on the defense Saturday afternoon -- it's the entire squad that will be under the microscope. O'Brien said the defense will simplify things against Illinois and, though he was short on details, linebacker Mike Hull believed they'd use fewer checks at the line. Said O'Brien: "I think we just need to let them go play."

2. New-look backfield: Bill Belton is now the starting running back; that much is certain. But what is Zach Zwinak's role with the team now? He fumbled twice on his last 11 carries, and O'Brien admitted those issues are a bit mental now. Does that mean Akeel Lynch will be used more? Well, it's anyone's guess at this point ... but it certainly doesn't seem as if Zwinak will play a big role. This is another chance for Belton to distance himself, and it might also be a bigger opportunity for Lynch.

[+] EnlargeJosh Ferguson
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY SportsJosh Ferguson is Illinois' top running back and top receiver.
3. Impact of Illinois RB Josh Ferguson: He's averaging a team-best 5.5 yards a carry and has 361 rushing yards. He's also the Fighting Illini's top receiving threat with 361 receiving yards. Nathan Scheelhaase likes to spread the ball around, but Ferguson has a team-high 25 catches, three more than his No. 2 target. For Illinois to win, Ferguson will almost certainly need a huge game. Penn State's defense will have to be prepared for him.

4. Adrian Amos back at CB: This move is a long time coming. Wideout-turned-cornerback Trevor Williams was the weak link on a weak defense, and he's now been benched. Amos will move from safety back to Williams' spot, which means that the starting safeties this week will likely be Malcolm Willis and Jesse Della Valle. Ryan Keiser underwent surgery on his arm, so he's been practicing with a red jersey. Keiser will still play, but that injury is likely the main reason that Della Valle earned the start over him. Amos has been a bit of a disappointment at safety, so this game will help determine whether it's just the new position that handicapped Amos -- or whether he's taken a step back, a la Deion Barnes this season.

5. Christian Hackenberg putting mistakes behind him. He never recovered after last week's interception on the first drive, and he's coming off his worst performance of the season. It should be markedly easier this afternoon, as Illinois has the No. 74 passing defense, but he can't get down on himself if he struggles early. Illinois likes to blitz a lot, and Hackenberg needs to remain poised -- something that seemed to be sorely missing last week. We'll be able to tell a lot about Hackenberg's mindset based on the first few drives. He's done pretty well for a true freshman overall, but Penn State needs more out of him.

Happy Halloween in the Big Ten

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
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McKayla Maroney, Brady HokeAP PhotoBrady Hoke, like McKayla Maroney, is not impressed.
The Big Ten doesn't have as many teams in the top 10 as the SEC. Or the Pac-12. Or the ACC. But shoot, the Big Ten can have just as much fun when it comes to Halloween.

Freddy Krueger (team not to sleep on): Minnesota. After the Gophers' unimpressive 0-2 start to the Big Ten season, it seemed Minnesota was frozen at the bottom of the conference (or maybe, just frozen in Minneapolis). But after solid wins over Northwestern and Nebraska, it now seems the Gophers have found their way back from the dead and could somehow manage to put together a pretty decent record by season's end. Goldy Gopher might look nice, but don't turn your back...

Boo (boo): Taylor Martinez’s toe injury. Whether it's turf toe or not, it's been serious and painful for Nebraska. The Cornhuskers were definitely a different team with Martinez, but even when he returned last week in a loss to Minnesota, it still seemed like a pretty terrifying ordeal.

Graveyard: Purdue. At least they have the Big Bass Drum. And Drew Brees. Because outside of that, there really doesn't seem to be a lot of noise or life coming out of West Lafayette, Ind. The Boilermakers have one victory this season (over Indiana State). That doesn't make them dead, but it does make them dead last.

[+] EnlargeKain Colter
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesKain Colter and Northwestern showed such promise early in the season.
The Halloween-themed Oreo: How many times have you bought the Oreo with the orange stuffing simply because you think to yourself that it will be different, new and exciting? Instead, it tastes the same. Well, hello Indiana. You’ve looked different, new and exciting this season. But still, the Hoosiers have only three wins, and looking at the rest of their season (and how they play defense), there’s a decent chance they end up only matching last year’s victory total of four. Different look, same result.

Trick: Northwestern. Remember when the Wildcats were a team that __________? A: Could contend for the Big Ten title? B: Was exciting to watch? C: Was changing the identity of the program and gaining national respect? Yeah. Not anymore. Trick's on us.

Treat: Wisconsin. With all that happened in the offseason and a brand new coach and system coming to the program, there would've been plenty of excuses if this team hadn't done well this year. But surprise: The Badgers have been one of the most consistent teams in the Big Ten, and that's a huge treat. Go ahead, be excited, jump around. Even Bo Ryan did it.

Big Ten Halloween costume ideas

One of the most popular costumes this year (and forever) will likely be McKayla Maroney and her “Not Impressed” meme.

And while there’s plenty to not be impressed about in Big Ten football this season, there are also some Big Ten coaches, and coaches who've faced Big Ten teams, who could seriously consider going as McKayla, such as: Michigan coach Brady Hoke, Penn State coach Bill O’Brien, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, Urban Meyer (circa 2010) and Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly.

But there are also plenty of costumes outside of McKayla. Because in a league full of wild animal mascots (literally) and nuts (literally and figuratively), there should be plenty of creativity for costumes.
However, Ryan isn't the only Big Ten selection fighting for the role of Sunshine. Ryan has the added benefit of having Jackson to make it a group outfit, which is always worth bonus points. But Ryan cut his hair this summer, which is a detriment to the costume as a whole.


Planning for success: Penn State

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- There's been a lot of talk about forgetting Saturday's 63-14 loss to Ohio State. About maybe pretending like the worst defeat in 114 years never happened, that the embarrassment should be shrugged off and discarded like an empty Gatorade bottle.

"You've got to get back to work and forget about the past," offensive guard Miles Dieffenbach offered.

But Dieffenbach altered that statement when pressed. Can you really forget about something like that? Isn't there a difference between forgetting and moving on?

"You can't forget," Dieffenbach admitted, nodding.

[+] EnlargeBill O'Brien
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsBill O'Brien tried to provide his players with some perspective after the loss to Ohio State.
"It's always going to be in the back of your mind. But we know what type of guys we have on the team, and we know what type of coaches we have. And we're not going to let that affect our outcome on the rest of the season."

Those words were remarkably similar to those by players on the 1994 Ohio State team, which lost to Penn State by that same score -- 63-14 -- on the road. Nineteen years later, and those Buckeyes still remember. Former defensive end Matt Finkes won't even wear black socks anymore because he still recalls wearing the color during the October game that's "etched in my memory."

There's no remedy to forgetting a 63-14 game. There's no way to erase it from the record books or pretend like it was never played. But there is a way to move past it -- while still remembering, of course.

"You get another win under your belt," former Ohio State DT Matt Bonhaus said, "and that feeling, that loss, goes away."

Added PSU safety Jesse Della Valle: "That's our goal, obviously, just to rebound and get back on track."

Penn State will get its chance at noon on Saturday against an Illinois team that started off hot and has cooled almost as fast the Lions' defense. The Illini boast a middle-of-the-road offense now, ranking No. 73 in total offense (400.7 ypg) and No. 58 in scoring offense (30.7 ppg).

But those numbers and rankings mean little this week -- and they'll mean even less if John Butler's defense repeats its performance from Saturday. Few questions this week revolved around the ability of Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase or the style of Illinois' offense. Many, many more revolved around the mindset of Penn State.

Dwell on the last game, and lose the next game. Play like the last game, and lose the next game. Bill O'Brien crossed arms in a gray sweatshirt Tuesday and explained that his staff would simplify the defense this week, maybe make fewer checks at the line, and "just let them go play."

The reigning coach of the year gathered the Nits around 2:45 p.m. Monday and preached focus, about the 63-14 loss not being the worst thing that will happen in their lifetimes. He again emphasized taking it one game at a time -- which sounded a lot like advice from the Ohio State staff back in 1994, long before replays of painful losses were repeatedly streamed online and fans vented on message boards 24/7.

Said Finkes: "The coaching staff just sat us down and said we still have a lot of goals to accomplish -- and let's not lose this whole season just because of one game."

The only way for PSU to move past that game isn't forgetting. Della Valle had it right on Tuesday; it's about focus.

"We have a lot more to play for this season," he said. "So we're going to move on and focus on what we need to do."

Said '94 OSU guard LeShun Daniels: "It's a new week. You need to focus on a new team. You need to get back to what you're doing. You need to move on."

Ohio State rebounded against Wisconsin in 1994, and its defense limited the Badgers to a field goal a week after surrendering nine touchdowns. Penn State is planning for success against Illinois on Saturday, a game in which it's still favored by double digits, by simplifying and focusing.

A win over Illinois digs the Lions out of the past and reinforces that focus on the future. Another big loss?

Then there'll really be no forgetting.

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