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Penn State Football: Nittany Lion Players’ Hearts Trump All Else

by on September 15, 2014 12:25 AM

It’s three games into Penn State’s 2014 season and some of the numbers aren’t very pretty:

Out of the 125 teams in the FBS, Penn State ranks 117th in rushing offense, 108th in net punting, 106th in scoring offense and 102nd in turnovers lost.

That’s counterweighted by a defense that is ranked sixth in pass interceptions, seventh against the rush and 11th in fewest points allowed, and a passing offense that is ranked 10th in the nation.

What you can’t measure is the Nittany Lions’ resolve.

And that, perhaps more than anything else, is why they are 3-0. Victories of two points and three points – the latter in Penn State’s 13-10 win over Rutgers on Saturday night – that came on the Nittany Lions' final drive of the game are proof positive of the team’s collective heart.

“That’s our mantra – do whatever it takes, win at all costs,” said fifth-year linebacker Mike Hull, a co-captain and tackles leader. “This team has a ton of heart. Ever since I’ve been here everyone loves football, loves playing for each other, loves the game. That makes it easy to go out there and execute.”

Playing is the easy part, agreed Adrian Amos, who has started 28 games over the course of four seasons. Being a leader in troubled times is not.

“You have to stay composed, because people are looking back at you,” Amos said. “If you’re a nervous wreck, they’re going to feed off of that. There aren’t too many times when I’m nervous.”

There’s a reason for that, beyond the hundreds of snaps he’s played since 2011. Nothing surprises Amos anymore. He’s seen it all.  The numbers have been repeated ad nauseam, yet are still staggering: Since he arrived on campus, Amos has had five position coaches, six defensive coordinators and four head coaches. He’s seen sanctions come and go. But what remains is that one constant – his teammates.

“I feel like I’ve been put in every position there is in college football,” he said. “Over the last few years we’ve learned a lot as individuals and learned a lot as a team. We’ve overcome adversity. We’ve learned that you can’t keep your head down, that you have to keep on fighting and see what happens at the end.” 

The end has been kind to Penn State thus far, mainly because Amos and his defensive teammates have kept it close long enough for quarterback Christian Hackenberg to do his wizardry with wide receivers Geno Lewis and DaeSean Hamilton.

The result is that Penn State is 3-0.


In the victory over Rutgers, Penn State led for only 73 seconds of the 60-minute contest. But center Angelo Mangiro said he never doubted the outcome, even after he was whistled for a crucial holding penalty on the final drive, which negated a 19-yard pass from Hackenberg to tight end Jesse James.

“(Bill) Belton did a great job on the sidelines, keeping everyone’s spirits up when things were down and keeping us going,” Mangiro said. “Our backs were against the wall and we knew it. We knew we were going to down the field and score.”

It is the first time Penn State has opened the season with three consecutive wins since 2009 and only the sixth PSU squad to do so since 2000. Over the past 14 seasons, only the 2005 and 2008 squad advanced to 4-0. (In ’05, they won their first six games and in ’08 they won their first nine.)

In his 19 years of coaching and two as a starting quarterback at East Stroudsburg, Franklin has been undefeated after three games a half-dozen times – including 2011, his first year as head coach at Vanderbilt. But only twice has his team extended that unbeaten string beyond three games. As the starting quarterback at ESU in 1993, the Warriors started 5-0-1. And when Franklin was at Maryland in 2001 under head coach Ralph Friedgen – Rutgers’ offensive coordinator on Saturday – the Terps started 7-0.

Soon, Franklin could be in uncharted waters. Penn State’s opponent on Saturday, UMass, may be 0-3 but they barely lost to Vanderbilt (34-31) and Colorado (41-38) the past two weeks. Still, Franklin has to like his chances. He loves his team.

“They persevered,” he said after the game on Saturday. “We can talk about perseverance and what this team, this university, this community have been through – and this team exemplifies that. They’re gritty, they’re hard-nosed, they never stop believing in themselves, they never stop believing in Penn State, they never stop believing in reach other.”


Amos, the mentor of a veritable fleet of young players in the secondary, has been through near hell and back with his older teammates. He’s been in the middle of tough times. So, the Penn State offense has the ball on the Rutgers’ 20-yard line, down 10-6 with 3:02 to play in a hostile environment? So what.

“You just trust the guys on offense,” Amos said. “We’ve seen them everyday in practice so we’ve seen them do it before. All you can do is worry about your job and execute what you have to do.

“The field tunes out everything else. When you’re on the field, nothing else matters. Just the team and playing football. That’s what we love to do.

“We keep on fighting and find a way to win.”


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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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Penn State Football: Nittany Lions Limit Mistakes And Make Plays In Second Half Of Victory
September 14, 2014 2:00 PM
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Penn State Football: Nittany Lions Limit Mistakes And Make Plays In Second Half Of Victory
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