- Josh Moyer, ESPN Staff Writer
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NittanyNation will be counting down the top five moments of Penn State's season this week. The No. 3 moment of the season: Michael Mauti takes revenge on Illinois.
When Tim Beckman stepped foot on Penn State's campus in a ploy to cause at least one player to transfer over the sanctions, Penn State's players took great offense.
"If you're from our conference and you're going to try to steal our players and then wish us well, then I've got a serious problem with that," Michael Mauti said at Big Ten media day.
Bill O'Brien and Beckman barely looked at each other during the game. The ceremonial handshake might have been missed if viewers blinked twice, and it was clear that bad blood still boiled between these two teams -- especially after others in the conference openly admitted it wouldn't be right to poach PSU's athletes.
An angry Mauti was not made available in the week leading up to the Illinois game, but he let his play do the talking on the Fighting Illini's home turf. He pinballed off would-be blockers, chased down tailbacks and harassed the passing game.
He made two interceptions, was initially credited with a forced fumble on a punt return (later ruled to be coming out prior to his painful hit) and had a half-sack. Oh, and he helped stop a fourth-and-1 QB sneak by Nathan Scheelhaase on a critical play and returned one of those interceptions 99 yards to the 1-yard line.
Mauti was a lock to win the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week by the third quarter, and he ended up becoming Walter Camp's National Defensive Player of the Week as well. Throughout the entire nation, no defensive player dominated more than Mauti on Sept. 29.
He helped embarrass the Illini 35-7 and take revenge on the one Big Ten team that didn't mind "poaching" PSU players. It was the best performance by one of the nation's best linebackers in a game that meant a lot, for many reasons.
And that's why it's the No. 3 moment of the season.