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Penn State Football: One Point to Make When Getting to the Heart of the Nittany Lions

by on October 21, 2012 12:08 PM

IOWA CITY, Iowa — A white sign was taped on the wall in the bowels of Kinnick Stadium near Penn State’s locker room titled “Play the Penn State Way.” Underneath were three underlying points.

1. Hard and physical football.

2. All we need are the guys in the Penn State locker room.

3. Let’s go get our 5th win.

Zero in on the second point because that’s the narrative for the 2012 football team. There’s a sense that this team does not much care what the opinion of Penn State football is outside of the Lasch Football Building. Bill O’Brien has downplayed national coach of the year talk. Individual accolades seem secondary to those who have been left off national awards lists. Even the biggest threat to the organization’s competitive persona, the simple realization of entering the season — perhaps, larger still, after as savory a victory as the 38-14 undressing of Iowa — knowing that no matter what the final record is, there is no invitation to any postseason game coming, does not irk this team much.

“It doesn’t matter what anyone else is saying,” senior linebacker Mike Mauti said, “or lack thereof I should say.”

From what’s been gathered, Penn State wants to show the program not only has a pulse, but it is still pumping strong. Get off the idea that the NCAA sanctions and loss of bowl trip means much of anything to this team. That ship seems like it sailed a long time ago. Penn State’s football program, sabotaged by the NCAA in July, and, really, for the last 11 months, might just be returning the favor, becoming a national storyline in spite of what the NCAA took away and tried taking away.

Point No. 2, re-read as: Forget those who abandoned ship, forget the San Gabriel Mountains in Pasadena. Keep buying into what this coaching staff is preaching, and let the good times roll.

“If we’re proving anything it’s the fact Penn State is not going anywhere,” Mauti said. “You can do what you want to us. You can take away things from us. You can try to split us apart. It’s not gonna happen.”

Point Nos. 1 and 2 are a harmonious marriage bridging the previous 46 years of Penn State football with the first of the Bill O’Brien era. The Nittany Lions, through the years, have long maintained the mantra of being a tough, hard-nosed football team, and that hasn’t changed, particularly on defense. Senior Jordan Hill (nine tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, one QB hit) anchored the defensive line, Mauti filled the stat sheet with eight tackles, a sack and an interception, and the rest of the defense helped hold the Iowa offense to just 209 yards.

On offense, schematically, Penn State looks ahead of the three Big Ten opponents it has faced. Compared to previous seasons? Miles ahead. Saturday’s game against Ohio State will fill in any remaining blanks as to whether it’s the best in the conference.

The difference? Going fast.

Penn State’s NASCAR no-huddle package comes from New England, where O’Brien spent the last five seasons. It’s predicated on one-word play calls and is meant to give the defense little time to settle. A recent article in the Boston Globe delves deep into how this could possibly change the future of the National Football League, and if it’s good enough to change the NFL, it stands to reason the Big Ten will be left scrambling to play catch-up as well. As the article details, two men saw this coming years ago: Bill Walsh, considered to be one of the greatest football minds ever, and Oregon coach Chip Kelly, who has built a buzz-saw in northwest America (Phil Knight helped, too).

“It’s not something you can just learn overnight,” quarterback Matt McGloin said.

He added: “I don’t think [Iowa] was ready for it. They couldn’t match up with us. We were in a lot better shape than them, and that’s gonna be the case for a lot of games.”

Penn State is playing with extraordinary effort because of everything that’s transpired. No need to rehash. Combining that with the Xs and Os is what’s paving the way to a season not like any anyone’s seen in years in Happy Valley. The senior leaders on this team chose to attend Penn State long before Bill O’Brien was ever a thought to replace Joe Paterno. They are the key to the past, O’Brien the key to the future. Both are working in harmony right now, and it’s reflected in the play on the field and the attitude of the rookie head coach replacing a legend at a place chock full of tradition.

"I believe when you play football at Penn State, you have a helluva lot to play for,” O’Brien said, “a thousand lettermen, a tradition and a student body. I believe we have a lot to play for and a lot to coach for.”

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Nate Mink covers Penn State football and news for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @MinkNate.
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