Penn State Nittany Lions: Pete Massaro

As part of an ongoing series, NittanyNation will preview a different position leading up to the season opener against Syracuse on Aug. 31. Up today: Defensive ends.

[+] EnlargeDeion Barnes
Bradley Leeb/USA TODAY SportsPenn State's Deion Barnes is primed for a big season.
Projected starters: Deion Barnes (2012 stats: 26 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, six sacks, three forced fumbles) and C.J. Olaniyan (2012 stats: 15 tackles, one sack, one start).

Key losses: Sean Stanley (2012 stats: 35 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, four sacks) and Pete Massaro (2012 stats: eight tackles, one tackle for loss, five starts).

Next in line: Anthony Zettel will see increased time this season as the top backup in the rotation. He's slightly bigger than Olaniyan (6-4, 258 compared to 6-3, 244) and he finished third on the team in sacks last fall with four.

DE Brad Bars is lost for the season, so that means defensive coordinator John Butler will have to turn to some more inexperienced players to back up those three. Evan Schwan is at the top of the list after redshirting last season, and true freshman Garrett Sickels could also compete for immediate playing time. Sickels was the top defensive recruit of the 2013 class and is already more physically imposing than Schwan.

What to expect: These defensive ends should have no problems with the pass rush. DL coach Larry Johnson has routinely put together lines that finish in the Top 25 in sacks, and both ends are quick, athletic players. Barnes was named Big Ten freshman of the year, and Olaniyan will bat down his fair share of passes this season.

PSU finished 15th in the nation in sacks (34) in 2012, and that number should be pretty similar this season. Barnes should even increase his numbers a bit. That being said, the pass rush is clearly the ends' forte here. Barnes worked on developing his run-stopping skills this offseason because he admitted that was one part of his game that needs to get better.

Last season, the ends struggled at times with keeping runs to the outside bottled up. Still, PSU's run defense wasn't a consistent issue last year -- and it shouldn't be a big one for the ends this year. Run defense just doesn't appear to be as big of a strength as the pass rush.

Recruiting trail: Penn State brought in two defensive ends -- Sickels and Curtis Cothran -- in the 2013 class, so it's not expected to take any in this 2014 class. The 2015 class, however, is another story.

Darius Fullwood (Olney, Md./Good Counsel) impressed the staff during a June camp and already has a PSU offer next to his name. O'Brien spoke to the defensive end on June 8 and already told him the staff could foresee him playing early at PSU. He's No. 225 on the ESPN Junior 300, and he'll be one player the staff keeps a close eye on.

Best-case scenario: Barnes posts Aaron Maybin-like numbers and gains national recognition after a strong rookie debut, while Olaniyan proves he's slightly better than the Massaro-Stanley combination from a year ago.

Worst-case scenario: Injuries plague the line, and Schwan or Sickels are forced to see more action than they usually would. The rush defense becomes the biggest issue of the front seven, and that throws the entire defense off kilter.

Top position question: How good can Barnes be? Well, after just one season, it's pretty clear Barnes has a future in the NFL. He's one of the top overall players on this team, and it's scary to think he has three seasons left.

His parents said, prior to last season, he aimed for 13 sacks. "And when he didn't get that, he was disappointed," his mother said. And reaching double-digit sacks this season is a possibility.

But let's get right to the heart of the question. Barnes has the ability to go down as one of PSU's best pass-rushers of the 2000s. And, if he does reach 10 sacks this season, the record-breaking chatter will undoubtedly start. Courtney Brown holds the school record with 33 sacks; Barnes will need to average nine sacks over the next three seasons -- if he doesn't declare early for the NFL draft -- to tie that record. It's possible.

After all, by Barnes' count, he should've had 10 sacks last year anyway. Regardless of the numbers he winds up with, he's arguably the top pass-rusher in the conference already. And he'll only get better.
Welcome to NittanyNation's mailbag! We asked you to tweet or email your questions, and we've selected three to answer in-depth this week.

Jim Murphy writes: How will Brad Bars' injury impact depth for the Lions this season? Was he poised for significant playing time?

Josh Moyer: He had high expectations back in February. I last talked to a smiling Bars during Thon weekend, when he volunteered to show host families around the football building. He said this at the time: "I feel like this is the season I'm going to take my game to another level. My expectations have risen a lot. ... I expect to be a key player on the team this year."
Penn State released an updated depth chart today and, although quarterback remains a question mark, some positions certainly became clearer.

Here's a closer look at some of the notable changes:

1. Lots of movement in the secondary.

Adrian Amos
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesA starting cornerback last season, Adrian Amos currently tops the depth chart at safety.
Adrian Amos is the top DB for the Nittany Lions, and he shined at cornerback last season. The versatile player practiced a lot at safety this offseason, though, and the depth chart now lists him as a starting safety alongside ... well, apparently, the other starter still isn't a lock.

Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, who started last season, is listed as Amos' backup. The other starter isn't yet decided, as Bill O'Brien put the "OR" next to Malcolm Willis' name, meaning a competition is still under way between him and walk-on-turned-scholarship athlete Ryan Keiser.

At cornerback, which saw Amos and the graduated Stephon Morris as the 2012 starters, there are two new names to watch. Sophomore Jordan Lucas grabbed one starting spot, while wideout-turned-corner Trevor Williams is listed at the other. Da'Quan Davis is Lucas' backup.

2. TE-turned-OT Garry Gilliam is now up to 305 pounds.

That's a huge turnaround in less than a year. He played the role of blocking TE last year and started the season at 262 pounds. So, in about 10 months, he's gained 43 pounds. That says quite a bit about PSU's strength and conditioning program. He's currently listed as Dononvan Smith's backup at left tackle.

3. Kyle Baublitz will start alongside DaQuan Jones at DT.

Redshirt freshman Austin Johnson received a lot of praise over the spring, and he seemed poised to grab the starting spot. But the more-experienced Baublitz is instead part of the first-string lineup.

Baublitz played in six games last year, and the most recent roster puts him at 286 pounds -- 32 pounds lighter than Jones and 11 pounds lighter than Johnson. He had two tackles and one sack last year.

4. The long-snapper is ... MLB Glenn Carson?

At least for now, it is. Sean Corcoran is an incoming run-on who's expected to compete for the starting snapping jobs, so Carson's name there could be short-lived.

5. Bill Belton remains the No. 2 RB, while Brandon Moseby-Felder will still start opposite WR Allen Robinson.

Neither was a big surprise, but there were questions surrounding both players. Akeel Lynch is the no. 3 RB, while Eugene Lewis-Matt Zanellato are the receiving backups. (Lewis should still see a considerable amount of time on the field, obviously.)

Moseby-Felder nursed a leg injury last season, which slowed him down in the early going, and he could be a nice surprise this season. Early enrollee Richy Anderson might have garnered his share of pats on the back, too, but he's listed as a fourth-stringer. A redshirt could be in his future.

6. Charles Idemudia is the non-scholarship LB to watch.

Yes, the starting lineup is still Mike Hull-Carson-Nyeem Wartman ... but that was never really in doubt. With just five scholarship linebackers on the roster -- six once Brandon Bell gets on campus -- a walk-on was poised to see some time.

PSU's players threw around a couple names, such as Adam Cole and Matthew Baney, but Idemudia is the only non-scholarship LB listed on the depth chart.

7. Kick/punt returners listed.

PSU tried a few different players on special teams last season. But as of now Belton and Alex Kenney are listed as the top-two kick returners, with Jesse Della Valle as the top punt returner. Those three had the most kick/punt returns last season, so it's not a huge shock to see those names again. One interesting change, though? Anderson is the No. 2 PR.

Next man up: Replacing Stanley, Massaro

December, 30, 2012
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Heading into next season, NittanyNation takes a closer look at holes left by departing Penn State players and the candidates who might fill them.

DEFENSIVE END
  • Who: The defensive line was a strength for Penn State, and Sean Stanley was the Nittany Lions' best end at stopping the run. He played in 46 career games -- starting 19 times -- and there was no controversy heading into 2012 over who would be starting there. Pete Massaro had limited action because of a slew of injuries but remained an above-average backup who played in nine games. He added quality depth to the ends.
  • By the numbers: Penn State boasted the nation's No. 23 rushing defense, and Stanley was second on the line with 35 tackles. He had 9.5 tackles for loss, four sacks and contributed toward three turnovers. Massaro had just eight tackles, broke up a pass and finished with one stop in the backfield.
  • Job description: If there was one weakness here, it was containing runs to the outside. The next defensive end must improve upon that, although none will be as seasoned as Stanley. At 6-foot-1 and 243 pounds, the next starter will undoubtedly be bigger and might even bat down a few more passes. PSU's starting defensive line didn't disrupt the throwing lanes too much and broke up just two passes the whole season. Massaro will be much easier to replace.
  • Top candidates: Rising redshirt sophomore Anthony Zettel and rising redshirt junior C.J. Olaniyan saw more time than Massaro, and both will be counted on even more in 2013. One will likely take over for Stanley, and the other will be the primary backup. Olaniyan is a very athletic end who can stop the run; Zettel is a strong, quick lineman who played basketball in high school.
  • One to watch: Zettel. At 6-5, he would be the tallest starter on the line, and he showed flashes of potential throughout the season. In a span of 14 plays against Navy, Zettel came away with six tackles and two sacks. He showed the ability to take over a game and finished third on the team with four sacks.
Nine Big Ten players have been named to the Capital One Academic All-America teams. That leads all FBS conferences.

Here are the honorees:

First team

Burkhead, Ward and Massaro earned first-team honors for the second time, becoming three of just five players nationally to achieve that distinction.

Second team

To be eligible for the academic All-America honors, a player must be in at least his second year of athletic eligibility, be a starter or key performer, and carry a cumulative 3.30 grade point average.

The Big Ten's five first-team selections were more than any other conference. The league has now led all FBS conferences in academic All-Americans for eight straight seasons, with 64 total honorees over that span.

Congrats to these players for this outstanding achievement.

Position review: Defensive line 

December, 1, 2012
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Every day for two weeks, NittanyNation will take a closer look at each position and how Penn State fared over the course of the season.

Today: Defensive line

[+] EnlargeJordan Hill
MCT/ZUMA Press/Icon SMIJordan Hill started slow but finished with a flourish as a senior for Penn State in 2012.
The front seven has always been a strength of Penn State, and that continued in 2012. Defensive tackle Jordan Hill started slow, taking some time to adjust to double-teams, but finished strong and earned praise from other conference coaches, such as Iowa's Kirk Ferentz. He was the star of this line and one of the best in the conference.

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Penn State 10: Week 9 power rankings 

October, 29, 2012
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Welcome to Week 9 of NittanyNation's power rankings, a top-10 list of Penn State players who are surpassing expectations, and who to keep an eye on.

After a rough loss against Ohio State, quite a few offensive contributors fell off the list. But some new players stepped up, and a few made big leaps on the list.

Whose performance left the biggest impression, and whose contributions were the most surprising? This week's top 10:

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Notebook: Kinnick Stadium a challenge

October, 19, 2012
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Iowa National AnthemStephen Mally/Icon SMIKinnick Stadium can be a tough environment for opponents.

Right tackle Mike Farrell still remembers the cold crawling up his arms, the 15-mph winds and the black-and-yellow crowd that buzzed like a nest of yellow jackets.

Penn State's last trip to Kinnick Stadium was more than two years ago, but Farrell remembers. The fifth-year senior watched 27 games since that 24-3 loss during a chilly night in Iowa City, but he can't forget.

"It was definitely energetic," Farrell said. "It was one of the more difficult places to play."

Farrell may be able to recall that matchup with ease, but even he likely can't remember the last time the Nittany Lions marched into Iowa's pink locker room and flew home winners. Farrell couldn't be blamed -- his brethren haven't won a game inside the Hawkeye State this century.

It's dropped four straight to Iowa on the road and last won there during Kirk Ferentz's 1999 rookie campaign -- a week after defensive end Pete Massaro celebrated his 10th birthday. Warm, cold, day, night; it hasn't mattered. Home or away, Iowa has claimed eight victories in the last 10 matchups.

"I've been away at Alabama, Ohio State, some places like that," Massaro said, "and I'd say Iowa's stadium is pretty vicious. It's definitely a tough place to play."

Bill O'Brien upped the volume this week on the practice loudspeakers, but he realized that wouldn't exactly mimic the Kinnick Stadium atmosphere. Short of inviting 75,000 screaming fans to stand 10 feet from the sidelines, louder hip-hop music had to make due.

"It's not going to be anything like what it's like Saturday night, so hopefully we can just give them a picture of it," O'Brien said. "It's a very tough environment, and they're playing well right now. They're a very tough football team. It's not going to be easy."

(Read full post)

Mike Hull isn't surfing the internet or asking his coaches about the status of Iowa tailback Mark Weisman. He'd rather be surprised Saturday.

The bruising runner is listed as doubtful, but Hull didn't seem to care if he had a 1 percent chance or 100 percent chance of playing. Hull and the defense planned to treat this game the same way no matter what.

"We're preparing as if he's going to play just because he's been a big part of their offense," Hull said Wednesday. "He's made some big plays for them. He's tough, he's a big guy, and we're going to have to stop him for us to be successful."

But wouldn't the game at least be a bit easier without the 225-pound fullback-turned-tailback bursting through Penn State's defensive line?

"Well," Hull said, "their other backs have had success. He's just been a spark for them recently."

[+] EnlargeMark Weisman
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallIowa Hawkeyes fullback Mark Weisman has rushed 100 times for 631 yards and eight touchdowns in six games this season.
That's an understatement. In the last four games, Iowa's former walk-on has basically been the offense by averaging 25 carries for 156 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Without Weisman, it's unknown whether Penn State's backup linebacker could even name the next running back in line. Iowa apparently even had trouble with it -- the Hawkeyes misspelled de facto starter Greg Garmon's name on the depth chart: "Garman."

That just speaks to Iowa's lack of depth at the position. Just like Penn State earlier this season, the Hawkeyes have been forced to get creative with their depth chart.

Damon Bullock remains foggy after a Sept. 15 concussion and won't play Saturday. That means the true freshman with the tricky last name will get the start -- with Jordan Canzeri backing him up. Canzeri hasn't played yet this season after undergoing ACL surgery in the spring.

But Penn State's players didn't want to hear all that.

"We realize right now he's not on the depth chart," safety Jake Fagnano said. "But we're preparing as if he's going to be playing every down. Obviously, he's a big part of their offense."

Matt McGloin took that preparation talk one step further. Forget that injury uncertainty, he wanted to see Iowa's version of Zach Zwinak in the backfield Saturday night.

"It would be great to have him in the game and see him do his job," McGloin said Wednesday afternoon. "It's definitely good to see another kid have success who started out as a walk-on."

Penn State's quarterback could regret those words if Weisman somehow defies the odds to return. In the last two games -- both wins -- Weisman has accounted for more than 49 percent of Iowa's entire offense. His 6.3 yard-per-carry average this season is surpassed by only two tailbacks in the country who also have at least 100 carries.

McGloin complimented Iowa signal-caller James Vandenberg. But it's clear this is Weisman's offense -- and, without him, the Hawkeyes could struggle against the Nittany Lions' front seven.

"We are going through our preparations as if he's going to play," Pete Massaro said in a familiar refrain. "He's got a lot of ability between the tackles, but that doesn't change the fact they have a big and aggressive line."
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Bill O'Brien's face didn't grow red, nor did his mood shift to anger, when asked about two outspoken players -- one of whom publicly complained about his playing time.

[+] EnlargeCurtis Dukes
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesCurtis Dukes is still a member of the Penn State team despite telling his hometown paper he was contemplating a transfer.
Penn State tailback Curtis Dukes told his hometown paper, the Watertown (N.Y.) Daily Times, on Friday that he deserved "more of a shot." Dukes' high school coach told ESPN that his former player was thinking of leaving after the season as a result.

O'Brien just shrugged when Dukes' name was brought up at Tuesday's weekly news conference. He talked about the redshirt junior with a steady demeanor, as if he were asked about Bill Belton or Zach Zwinak -- and he dismissed any notion of disciplinary action.

"Nah, it's a free country," O'Brien said matter-of-factly, drawing laughs from the crowd. "I mean, nah, Curtis is working hard and he's a member of the football team, and he'll continue to work hard. And that's all I have to say about that."

A tweet from cornerback Stephon Morris was also broached later in the news conference. On Monday night, the senior wrote, "Pls stop looking ahead to next week. This is a huge game, we hate them they hate us. Were focused on Iowa that's it. One game at a time."

Apparently, the term "hate" offended some. O'Brien turned to a Penn State spokesman, rolled his eyes and then addressed the media about the tweet.

"You know what I hate? I hate Twitter," O'Brien said. "I think these guys are young guys and I think tweet this and spacebook that, whatever, we got to play the game. We don't have any hatred for Iowa, we respect Iowa. ... I think it's just young guys tweeting this, tweeting that. That's how it works, I guess."

Award list controversy: Linebacker Michael Mauti wasn't named to the Lombardi Award watch list last week, and O'Brien spoke up again Tuesday about the snub.

"I'm sure they would tell you we just want to win, but I do think that there's a certain amount of ridiculousness that guys like Michael Mauti or Gerald Hodges or Jordan Hill aren't on the -- I don't even know the awards. ...

"These award lists come out halfway through the season. I'm trying to figure it out. Shouldn't the award lists come out at the end of the season when we have a 12-game season?"

Running backs: Little changed on the depth chart, but leading rusher Zwinak was finally moved to No. 2 on the depth chart in what basically amounted to a formality.

Belton was still listed as the top tailback, and O'Brien said the bye week was invaluable to the sophomore. He deflected a question on whether Belton was yet at 100 percent, but the coach said the tailback, who' still recovering from an ankle sprain, looked good in practice.

"He caught the ball well, he ran well, he stretched well," O'Brien said. "He did some good things, and hopefully he'll play well on Saturday."

Injury report: True freshman linebacker Nyeem Wartman remains out with a knee injury, and O'Brien said he's not certain yet whether he'll return this season. Wartman might earn a medical redshirt.

The only other injury listed on the report was offensive lineman Mark Arcidiacono, who remains out with a foot injury. Defensive end Pete Massaro and left tackle Donovan Smith were not listed on the report.

No break on the bye week: O'Brien smiled when asked about his "bye" week. He spent Monday-Wednesday last week preparing practices, and he was in Fork Union, Va., on Friday to recruit. And that's not too mention constructing midseason evaluations or analyzing Iowa film.

As a result, O'Brien said, he didn't take much time off.

"A lot of people ask me about, how was your bye week and having days off?" O'Brien said. "Well, you never have a day off during football season. It's either getting the team ready to play or recruiting or whatever it may be. But I was able to take my wife out to dinner Saturday night, but that was about it."
Bill O'Brien spent the bye week evaluating his talent at midseason, so NittanyNation felt inspired to do the same.

Here's the Nittany Lions' midseason report card:

Quarterbacks: A

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NittanyNation's midseason awards

October, 9, 2012
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With the season halfway over, NittanyNation has looked over the games and each player performance to decide this year's midseason awards.

Who's the team MVP to this point, and who's the biggest underachiever? NittanyNation has it all below:

Team MVP: LB Michael Mauti
This is an easy decision. Mauti has a brought a fire to this team, and his leadership hasn't been limited to just the field. During the sanctions, he was one of the first players to step up and pledge his loyalty to the university. And his linebacking performance this season could very well be remembered as one of the best of the decade at Linebacker U. Safety Malcolm Willis said this about Mauti: "His play speaks for itself. His [play] said, 'Guys I'm going to put the team on my back and make a bunch of plays. And I expect the same from you guys.' "
[+] EnlargeBill O'Brien
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarMatt McGloin has benefitted from Bill O'Brien's tutelage. He's the leading passer in the Big Ten.
Biggest surprise: QB Matt McGloin
With the additions of O'Brien and Charlie Fisher, McGloin was expected to be improved this season -- but not this much. He leads the Big Ten in passing yards (1,499), completions (136) and is tied with Nebraska's Taylor Martinez in touchdowns (12). McGloin has limited his mistakes, throwing just two interceptions, and this season could go down as one of the best for a Penn State quarterback. At this pace, McGloin could finish the season as the school's No. 2 all-time passer when it comes to yards.

Biggest underachiever: DT Jordan Hill
You could argue for Sam Ficken here, but expectations weren't high for the kicker to begin with. Hill was expected to be a favorite for the Lombardi Award; he was expected to take over for second-round NFL draft pick Devon Still without barely missing a beat. Instead, Hill has taken a step back. He can't deal with the double-teams, and he has just two tackles-for-loss this season. Hill might not even be on course for a selection on the All-Big Ten First Team.

Rookie of the Year: DE Deion Barnes
He was expected to see a lot of time this season as a situational player. But, when Pete Massaro went down, Barnes stepped in as the starter -- and turned a lot of heads. He is the Nittany Lions' top pass-rusher and already has a team-leading four sacks and five tackles-for-loss. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof said Barnes has already proven to be a special player, and after a rookie season like this, the words "NFL future" are already being brought up in conversation.

Unsung hero: RB Zach Zwinak
Before the season, few would have guessed Zwinak would rush for more than 100 total yards on the season -- let alone boasting multiple 100-yard games halfway through the season. He was the team's last option, a third-string fullback the year before, but he came onto the field out of necessity for the Nittany Lions. With four tailbacks injured, Zwinak's number was called -- and he didn't disappoint. He leads the team with 317 yards on 68 carries; he also has three touchdowns. He's getting better every week.

Best backup: LB Mike Hull
Hull wasn't sure if he wanted to remain in Happy Valley following the sanctions, but he decided to stick with the team as the No. 4 'backer. He would have been the No. 5, if not for Khairi Fortt's transfer to Cal, but he's seen an increased workload because of his play. He scooped up one fumble and rumbled 74 yards for a touchdown earlier this season. Against Northwestern, he made the final deflection to seal the win. He's guaranteed to be a starter next season.

Most likely to set a record: WR Allen Robinson
O.J. McDuffie set the single-season school reception record in 1992 by catching 63 passes. Through six games, Robinson already has 41 grabs. It would actually be more of a surprise if he doesn't hit the record this season. Robinson could come away with records for receiving yards and touchdowns, but he's closest to the receptions record. He was a third-string wideout last season; he's one of the top in the nation this year.

Least likely to start next year: K Sam Ficken
He's been inconsistent and, before the Northwestern game, was statistically the least-accurate kicker in all of college football. O'Brien says the team remains behind him, but he clearly doesn't trust the kicker. Ficken isn't automatic from anywhere, and it would be a surprise if O'Brien can't find a walk-on or two to take his place next season. Ficken is definitely on the hot seat and, unless he improves drastically these next few weeks, he'll be there all offseason.

Practice notebook: Wideouts look sharp

October, 3, 2012
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Stan Hixon stood near the sideline with shorts, short sleeves and a wide smile during a warm afternoon practice.

"Nice weather," said a visitor. "Wish it were Saturday."

"Me too," a grinning Hixon said, before jogging off to coach the receivers.

Hixon later had reason to smile -- his wideouts caught everything in preparation of Saturday's Northwestern game. The assistant head coach stood 12 yards in front of the quarterbacks and didn't raise his voice once during the open session of Wednesday's practice.

He glanced down a few times at a folded piece of paper, directed his players in a soft tone and sometimes pulled a player aside. He'd pump his arms to mimic route-running and send the player off with a pat.

Matt McGloin completed seven straight passes to Hixon's wideouts, mostly on intermediate routes, before a large digital clock showed all zeroes to indicate the drill was over. No wideout dropped a pass, and the only incompletion -- from Steven Bench -- came on a miscommunication with Matt Zanellato.

Trevor Williams caught two balls for 36 yards, Allen Robinson grabbed two receptions for 28 yards, and Brandon Moseby-Felder had two grabs for 21 yards. Alex Kenney also caught a 16-yard pass.

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Tuesday's with O'Brien: Recruiting

October, 2, 2012
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Penn StateRob Carr/Getty ImagesBill O'Brien, shown taking the field before the Nittany Lions' opener, said he knows that recruiting under the NCAA sanctions is going to be tough, but Penn State still has plenty to offer.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Between sanctions and controversy, some people might be concerned with the state of PSU recruiting.

Bill O'Brien is not one of those people.

The first-year head coach passionately ranted for more than two minutes Tuesday about Penn State's recruiting success. "When the sanctions happened," O'Brien said, "I know that everybody said, 'Uh-oh, here we go. What's going to happen to Penn State?' "

O'Brien answered his own question by implying, "Not much." Between 40 and 50 prospects have attended every home game, and the coach told reporters the university still has plenty to offer.

"This place is a very special place," he said during his weekly news conference. "This is a place where you play great football with great kids as teammates. You can get a fantastic degree; you can play in front of 100,000 people. You can play on national TV.

"We've had -- every NFL team's been in here to scout our players already this year. You'll have exposure to that. You're going to play for a coaching staff that has NFL experience, national championship experience."

Because of the sanctions, Penn State can extend no more than 15 new scholarships during each of the next four seasons. O'Brien has already received 11 verbal commitments for the Class of 2013, and he's offered 16 2014 players on the ESPN Watch List.

"Is it going to be hard? Yeah, recruiting's hard," O'Brien said. "But, at the end of the day, I think there's a lot of good stuff going on here."

Injury report: Penn State's health finally seems to be taking a turn for the better. Only three players were listed on the report this week, and defensive end Pete Massaro is listed as "day-to-day."

O'Brien said he expects both Massaro and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, who was not listed on the injury report, to be ready for Saturday. Linebacker Nyeem Wartman and offensive guard Mark Arcidiacono remain out.

Preparing for a "White Out": Students are attempting organize a "white out" Saturday through social media, mainly Twitter, and O'Brien was asked about his response to the effort.

"I don't know about the student white-out, but I do know this for the students," he said. "I am asking the students to [be there]. This is a noon kickoff and this is by far the biggest game for us this year. We're playing a 5-0 Northwestern team. We feel like we're doing some good things; we need all those students in the stands at noon for that kickoff.

"These guys, they feed off of that crowd noise and the student section. ... Whether it's white out, this out, that out, I don't know. I just need them in the stands at noon going nuts for this football team."

Always a threat: If there's one Northwestern player Penn State's watching, O'Brien said it's Kain Colter -- who plays quarterback, tailback and wideout.

Colter was 16-of-20 passing against Boston College and, against Indiana, ran for 161 yards while adding 131 receiving yards.

"That's a guy you have to understand on every single snap where he is," O'Brien said. "He's a guy they're doing a great job with, putting him in a position to make plays. ... Quite honestly, when you gain 700 yards in a game on offense, you're talking about a top-notch team. If not for the Baylor- West Virginia game, everybody would be talking about Northwestern."

Quotables: O'Brien, when addressing his team's ability to play hard: "They play like their hair's on fire every play."

Blocked field goal: O'Brien addressed Sam Ficken's miss from 18 yards Saturday by saying Illinois blocked the kick from the strong side. Because of the angle of the kick, O'Brien usually moves a tackle over.

"So you're talking about something that made me really not very happy," O'Brien said. "So we've worked on it this week already, and we'll continue to work on it."

Tuesdays with O'Brien

September, 25, 2012
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Cornerback Adrian Amos is just fine, Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said. He didn't suffer a concussion in Saturday's game; his helmet just became twisted.

"Adrian really didn't get his bell rung on that one," O'Brien added.

O'Brien said defensive end Pete Massaro will probably not play, but he listed Sean Stanley as "probable." Donovan Smith was also listed on the depth chart as the starting left tackle.

Punt returner: Jesse Della Valle returned three punts for 45 yards against Temple, and O'Brien called him the "special teams player of the week."

"He's got a little bit of a knack for that," O'Brien said, "and we're going to stick with him."

O'Brien said secondary coach John Butler noticed Della Valle making good catches during warmups against Virginia -- so they decided to go with him then. And, after Saturday's performance, he's cemented his position.

Defensive line: O'Brien showed a lot of respect for the Illini's defensive line, which features two players on a lot of watch lists.

Defensive end Michael Buchanan (Nagurski, Bednarik, Lombardi, Hendricks) and defensive tackle Akeem Spence (Lombardi, Outland) could give Penn State some trouble, and O'Brien said he gets a sense of deja vu when he watches them.

"They remind us of what we play against every day in practice," he said.

Preparing for ... who? Illinois coach Tim Beckman said Monday that Nathan Scheelhaase remains his starting quarterback, but Penn State appears to be preparing for both.

Scheelhaase is a dual-threat, while Reilly O'Toole is more of a pocket passer.

"Both guys bring two distinct styles to the offense," O'Brien said, "so preparing for this team is very, very difficult because you almost have to prepare for two types of offenses."

Sticking with it: Wideout Brandon Moseby-Felder made a critical drop Saturday that wound up as a Temple interception. O'Brien said he exchange some words with Moseby-Felder, mainly just telling Shawney Kersey's replacement he wouldn't bench him.

"Brandon Moseby-Felder is proably one of the more improved players on our football team," O'Brien said. "When he came here in the spring, he had some injuries -- a bit of a hamstring -- but he stuck with it."

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