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VIDEO: One-on-One with Micha Hancock - Nov. 21

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - catches up with senior setter Micha Hancock. The Nittany Lions will take an 11-match winning streak into Saturday's contest at Maryland.

By Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.-Less than a month ago, Brett Gravatt was a bench player trying to fight his way into the lineup for the Penn State men's soccer team.

Now, he's the player that sent the Nittany Lions to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

During Penn State's first round game against Hartwick Thursday night, the reserve midfielder scored the first goal of his career with 16 minutes remaining to give the Lions a thrilling 2-1 win.

"Wow," Gravatt said afterwards. "I felt excitement, I guess. I'm glad I could help."

Although the feat may seem impressive itself, it doesn't give complete justice to the beauty of the sophomore's goal. 

Taking the ball on the right side of the box, Gravatt separated himself from a defender with a quick move to his left, then fired a rocket that curled past goaltender Tom Buckner and into the top left corner of the net. 

As teammates engulfed him in celebration, Gravatt simply turned and walked towards the Penn State sidelines. 

"One of my strengths is [one-on-one] so I like to go at people," Gravatt said. "I was able to beat him inside and got the shot off and I got lucky and it went in. I curled it pretty well and I guess I hit it pretty well."

Not only did the goal give the Nittany Lions a lead they wouldn't relinquish, it was a moment that Gravatt had spent the entire season working towards. 

After coming back from a torn meniscus in the offseason and playing just 84 minutes in Penn State's first 16 games combined, the Dunn Loring, Virginia native finally got into the starting lineup during the Lions' previous two games against Akron and Michigan State.

While the sophomore didn't enter the game until the second half against Hartwick, he made sure his presence was felt when the opportunity arose.

"The message to the guys before the game was, 'don't blend in, standout'" head coach Bob Warming said. "When the game is over with, know that you've stood out in some manner, that you made a big play, that you helped your team win and obviously Brett did that. He took advantage of a moment and helped our team come through."

It may have been Gravatt's first tally of the season, but it didn't come as a surprise to any of his  teammates, who are used to seeing such plays from the midfielder in practice.

"Yeah, we've seen him do that a lot," senior forward Mikey Minutillo said. 

"All the time," midfielder Brian James added.

However, the goal was more than just a big moment for Gravatt. It was also proved that the Nittany Lions were capable of coming from behind in the second half with their season on the line. 

After playing the Hawks to a draw in the first half despite outshooting them eight to two, Penn State fell behind less than a minute into the second when a scrum in front of the net produced a goal by Jhevaughn Beckford.

Down 1-0 and with only 44 minutes remaining to salvage their season, the Lions didn't roll over and quit. Instead, they responded by continuing to create chances in the Hartwick zone. 

Just over 13 minutes after Beckford's goal, Minutillo answered for the Lions, beating Buckner to a ball from midfielder Drew Klingenberg and tapping it past the goalie to knot the score at 1-1. 

Afterwards, the 6-foot-1 forward admitted he was nervous as he watched a Hawks defender nearly prevent the ball from ending up in the net. 

"To be honest, I was a little doubtful that it was going to go in," Minutillo said. "That center back came in sliding and he got a piece of it, but luckily it had enough pace, but as it was rolling I just wanted it to go faster and faster and thank god it did."

In total, the Nittany Lions outshot the Hawks 17 to seven in a hard fought, physical game. What impressed Warming the most though, was seeing the fortitude of his players after they fell behind.

Soccer is a low scoring game, and one goal can often be enough to determine a winner. But on Thursday, the Nittany Lions overcame that and found a way to chip away at the Hawks' defense until the game was won.

The NCAA Tournament is now in full swing, and Penn State is sure to see another challenge when it takes on Syracuse on the road on Sunday. Still, wins like this prove the team will not go away without a fight. 

"You know what I liked the most, is that we've had games this year where we had a goal scored on us and for the next few minutes we were a little poor," Warming said. "[Tonight], I thought we stepped it up a little better. We just kept going, kept going at them. I was really excited about that because it means that your team has confidence and they feel they're going to win it. I think not having that self doubt anymore is going to help us."

Coach Brandwene Update

By Tyler Feldman, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Those close to freshman forward Aly Hardy know that she is a well-rounded individual. She is not only a dedicated hockey player, but also a saxophone player and dancer.

Her smooth saxophone and dance abilities translate well onto the ice where she displays orchestrated skating with her line mates, as well as a unique barrel of stick handling skills.

She is making the most of her opportunities and impacting play through her constant progression, feisty play and work ethic.

The St. Albans, Vermont native has seen playing time in the past four games has jazzed up the program and was a contributor to three Blue and White wins during that four-game span.

Her hard work even translates into the players lounge at Pegula Ice Arena where she enjoys competing in 'Just Dance' on Xbox and at the Ping-Pong table, as well.

"Well I play ping pong mostly with [Hannah] Bramm because I can't play against Jill [Holdcroft] anymore because she makes me mad," said Hardy.

In fact, according to Hardy, the aforementioned statement is her favorite aspect of the state-of-the-art Pegula Ice Arena.

"I'd probably have to say the lounge," said Hardy. "The couches are really comfy, and I really like how we have Xbox and we play 'Just Dance' sometimes and the ping pong table definitely."

Music, dancing and ping-pong aside, Hardy intends to continue to jazz up Penn State as she progresses into a more experienced performer on the ice. 

Illinois Week Q&A - Assistant Coach Charles Huff

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10553346.jpegUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State special teams coordinator and running backs coach Charles Huff spoke with the media on Thursday.  The Nittany Lions travel to Illinois on Saturday at noon (ESPN2). Take a look at a Q&A with Huff.

Q: The running backs have talked about the "chin" concept that you have taught them. What kind of impact has that had on them in terms of good ball security?
"A lot of times coaches ask kids to do something, but they don't tell them how or why. When I got here, that was one of the first things that was brought to my attention that the backs in the past had a problem putting the ball on the ground. Going back and looking at all of the film from last year, the same problem would come up (holding the ball). A lot of times, coaches assume kids know how to hold the ball. You've got to really teach them from ground one. We started it with where you put your hands, where you put the ball on your chest, where it goes on your forearm and biceps. Chin is kind of the acronym that puts it all together so that you aren't yelling five different things when a kid is running down the field. But the key of it is that you want to kind of keep the ball as vertical as possible as long as possible because that limits the area defenders can put their helmet on and the area defenders are able to grab on it. And when it comes to getting hit, the vertical angle reduces the chances of the ball coming out. When I first got here, they thought it was a little awkward, but as things went on and we continued to show them the importance of it and how it helps them, and I really think the biggest part was that as the season went on and they were doing it and they didn't fumble the ball they started believing in it. And now that's kind of who they are. They take pride in being a group that doesn't put the ball on the ground. It will continue to grow."

Q: What did you see from the running game last week that helped create such a productive day?
"I think it's a true testament to the O-line. When the O-line goes well, the running back goes well. It's a true case because we were able to put either back in there, and they were able to do well because we got some guys back from injury, which creates a little more depth. As they go, we go. Both Akeel and Bill have done a good job being patient. When the opportunities have shown up, they have taken advantage of it. There is more continuity up front, and the result is a bigger running game and the offense is able to roll a little more efficiently if you can run the ball."

Q: What do you think has allowed your young gunners (Grant Haley and Christian Campbell) to be so successful on punt coverage this year?
"The one thing that is big when you talk about the maturity and growth of developing young talent is that you have got to be on the field and you've got to play. A lot of times it's difficult to get on the field on offense and defense as fast because there is a lot more learning. There is a lot more new learning and scheme things that go into it. Special teams is kind of one of those things that is the same across the board. One thing I wanted to do when I got here was keep it as simple as possible so that they can do the things they have been doing on the field their entire life. There is not a lot of thinking and checks. It's just letting you play fast and let you use your ability to be successful. And with that comes repetition. And now these guys are used to being out there. They are used to the speed of the game. They are used to running down the field and making plays. And what happens is, on offense and defense the game slows down for them. And now they are able to think because the game has slowed down. I think that comes from them being on special teams and having some success on special teams. They kind of see that it's the same game they have played their entire life."

Q: What have you seen from Daniel Pasquariello during the past couple weeks at practice that has translated into better results in the games?
"I think it's just him being out there. A lot of people need to remember that he had never played in an American football game. So this is his 10th American football game. Of course as the season goes, it's going to be new. It would be like you or I riding a bike for the very first time. We'd probably be a little wobbly. Over time, he's gotten more comfortable. On the first day of practice, he wasn't sure where all of his pads went. That was only a few weeks ago. So to go from that to where he is, and you help him understand that it is the same game that he has been playing. It's the same technique that you were using in Australia. It's the same technique of how to kick. We are just adding some things around him. Maybe things are a little bit different from a schematical standpoint, but it's just maturity and growth within the process. He still has a long way to go as far as maturation and development. As you become more comfortable, you become more confident. As you become more confident, you are able to take some more risks and do some things that may not be normal in your non-confident ability. And that's where he is at. The one thing he has really done is that he has worked his tail off to be more consistent. A lot of times you work with specialists and they try to kick their way out of it. And then they end up kicking their leg out. He's worked with his fundamentals. He's worked on his drops. He's gotten with snappers. He goes out on off days and works on his fundamentals, and it shows. He knows that we are looking for more from him, but he is getting to become who we expected him to be."

Q: How close do you think Grant Haley is to breaking off a big return for the special teams unit?
"I think he is a lot closer than people think he is. The one thing about a kickoff returner is that you need to have natural vision. That's why a lot of times, you love for your running back to be that guy. Even though you may scheme it up and say that things are going to hit here, when things are flying at 100 miles per hour, you've got to have a guy who can make one move and go at 100 miles per hour. The thing about Grant is that he' doesn't play running back. So for him reading blocks and him constantly being able to lean away from people and making people miss that's not something he does naturally because he doesn't do it everyday. He has that ability, but that's not something he does every day. The thing for Grant is that we don't change the return direction drastically every week, so that the picture is kind of consistent in his mind. Now, where that hurts you is that every team doesn't line up the same every week. So you are tweaking your return to help Grant without putting him in a spot where you say, it's going to split here every time. I think with Grant continuing to see the game and slow down that interception and return for a touchdown was kind of the a'ha moment. I'm looking for big things from him in the return game from here and definitely into the future."

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Bailey and the Lions Set to Open Big Ten Play

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By Julie Bacanskas, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With 10 games under their belt, the Nittany Lions are ready to start the next portion of their season, Big Ten play, against an opponent they have history with, Michigan.

During the teams' last meeting, the Lions defeated Michigan in double overtime and advanced to the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. Not only did the Blue and White take down the Wolverines in that specific game, but they also emerged victoriously in three of the five matchups last season.

This year the two teams are ready to rekindle that competitive edge, starting with this weekend's series.

"We don't need any added sense at all," head coach Guy Gadowsky said. "This is Michigan. This is the most successful program in college hockey history that we get to compete against, and we do it a Yost Arena, which is a tremendous environment. It's a very tough environment, and it's something I think our guys are now starting to look forward to, so we don't need any added incentive to play the University of Michigan, believe me."

Last season's results are something neither team has forgotten after the offseason months. Penn State remembers victory, while Michigan remembers the pain that came along with defeat.

"Anytime that you develop a history with any team, I think that contributes to it," said Gadowsky. "I know that at media day, some of their reporters already told me, 'Michigan has you circled,' stuff like that, so I can't comment from what they're thinking. From our standpoint, we're excited to play all Big Ten teams. I mean they're all monsters in this game, and a big part of why we come to Penn State is to compete against the very best. Certainly this weekend is the epitome of that."

The Lions are coming into these games with momentum on their side. The team is fresh off its split with UMass Lowell, a series in which forward Casey Bailey tallied three goals and one assist.

Bailey currently leads the team with eight goals and is only one shy of tying the nation's leaders in goals scored. Clearly, the junior has entered this season with big expectations, and thus far, he has been fulfilling them.

"I have to give a lot of credit to my linemates," said Bailey. "Taylor Holstrom is playing incredibly, and David Goodwin has been great. I'm just having a lot of fun playing with my linemates. I think as a team, when you create offense, it really opens up space for other guys. You've got to give a lot credit to everyone on the team. I don't think it's anything personally that I'm doing special. I just think the team's playing well. I'm a shooter and when I get those chances, it's nice when the puck goes in."

Bailey's 54 shots on the season are a team high, and his 12 points having him trailing only Holstrom.

"With Casey, I think his physical strength and conditioning is at a much higher level than it's ever been, I think in his life," Gadowsky said of the junior. "He started this season playing to play good hockey, not playing to score goals.

"He loves scoring goals, and that's part of what makes him a good hockey player. He loves scoring goals in games. He loves scoring goals in practice. He loves scoring goals in street hockey. He just loves scoring goals, but I don't think that's what he's concentrating on. I think he's concentrating on playing good hockey."

With multiple forwards, including Bailey, producing game in and game out, the Lions have an added sense of confidence right now.

The team knows what to expect of Michigan, and the trip could not have come at a better point in the season for Penn State.

"We've played them [Michigan]," Gadowsky said. "We know there are certain things they're going to do that are different from UMass Lowell, but the bulk of this is certainly our preparation and how we play. Really for our program, it's always going to be like that. We really try to just get as good as we possibly can at our game."

The Lions and Wolverines will open their series 7:30 p.m. Friday at Yost Ice Arena.

Michigan Graphic.jpg

Lions Looking to Feed Off of Jeffrey Field Crowd as Postseason Continues

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8288514.jpegBy Miranda Kulp, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's soccer team has called Jeffrey Field home since the program's inception in 1994.

Located in the heart of the Penn State athletic facilities at the corner of Park Avenue and University Drive, the stadium was named in honor of the late Bill Jeffrey, legendary head coach of the soccer program from 1926-'52, and has carried a winning legacy since it opened.

To the student-athletes who have spent countless hours playing on Jeffrey, it will always hold a special spot in their lives.

"It's crazy this being my last year, I've always said that Jeffrey field is the greatest place to play soccer," senior Kori Chapic said. "Everything about this place is magical, with the location, Park Avenue Army, and roar of the stands, just everything ties in so perfectly that there truly is no other place I rather of spent the last four years."

The current team holds an 11-1 record at home for this season. Historically speaking, the Nittany Lions have been dominant on their home pitch. The Lions own a 202-23-9 all-time mark at Jeffrey Field, including a 103-5-4 mark in Big Ten matches. The Jeffrey Field history includes a 39-match unbeaten streak stretching from 2001-''04.

Earning the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Nittany Lions have the opportunity to again host their second and third round matches in the 2014 postseason. With so much history, tradition and support on Jeffrey Field, it's easy to see why the Nittany Lions are eager to host UConn on Friday night (7:30 p.m.).

"I absolutely see a difference in the team when we're playing here compared to on the road," head coach Erica Walsh said. "It's a comfort zone when it comes to playing at Jeffrey Field. We get to sleep in our own beds, go out to eat at our own restaurants and most importantly play in front of our home crowd. It's really a secret advantage we have right now," she said.

From the Park Avenue Army student section to the friends and family that travel countless miles to watch the girls play, there is never a silent moment in the stands during the game.

"I look at the Army and crowd and I'm so thankful for their dedication. It can be absolutely freezing and you''ll still see everyone come out and support the team," Walsh said. "As a coach that is an amazing feeling seeing the support from the fans and seeing how it causes the team to always put on a show for them by playing their best."

Not only do the fans create a powerful atmosphere for Jeffrey, the grass surface is something that separates Penn State's soccer home from other places in America.

"The field is a true role, down to the length of the grass and the bounce this is the type of field we play our best on," Walsh said.

Widely regarded as one of the best grass fields in college soccer, Jeffrey Field was honored as the 2006 Collegiate Soccer Field of the Year by the SportsTurf Managers Association.

For the seniors on the team, this is the time in their collegiate career when they can reflect on all the time they've spent on Jeffrey Field. And it is their mission to finish on a high.

"Some of the greatest memories I have were made on this field, it's been a great experience that wouldn't be the same without Jeffrey," Chapic said.

Needless to say, the Lions' season and storied history of success wouldn't be the same without Jeffrey Field and the crowd's impact during the matches. To all the players who have played on this field, it has become more of a second home to them.

"Every time you step onto this field it strikes you and gives you an indescribable feeling of both joy and determination," Chapic said.

VIDEO: James Franklin Practice Update - Illinois Week

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin provided an update to the media following Wednesday's practice session at the Lasch Football Complex. The Nittany Lions travel to Illinois at noon (ESPN2) on Saturday.

VIDEO: Nittany Lions Eager for Challenge at Charleston Classic

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Following a pair of wins to open the season, the Nittany Lion basketball team (2-0) is set to embark on its first challenge away from the Bryce Jordan Center.

Penn State will kick off a span of three games in four days at the Charleston Classic on Thursday against Charlotte (ESPNU, 5 p.m.). While the Nittany Lions are pleased to notch two victories to begin the 2014-15 campaign, head coach Patrick Chambers knows what type of test lies ahead.

"Charlotte is going to be an incredible test for us," Chambers said. "They have a group of seniors, a great point guard, a great coach. I just want to see us go down there and compete, compete at a very high level against some of the best talent."

Penn State's depth played a big role in the opening two games on the schedule. No fewer than nine players enter the Charleston Classic averaging 11 minutes of playing time or more. Playing three games between Thursday and Sunday is something the Lions are looking forward to. And the schedule plays into the strength of the Lions' deep bench.

"It takes us all back to the good old AAU days where we play back-to-back games each and every day," senior forward Ross Travis said.

"When the opportunity presents itself that you can play more than one basketball game in a span of a few days, it's a lot of fun," guard John Johnson said.

The Lions enter the second weekend of the season with six players averaging at least 5.0 points per game. That list is topped by senior D.J. Newbill, who enters the Charlotte game averaging 17.5 tallies per contest. Freshman guard Shep Garner is averaging 13.0 points per game after his first two games in a Penn State uniform.

"I'm definitely pleased with the contributions that we have been getting from different guys," Chambers said. "That's a good thing. But now, we go on the road to a neutral site. We've got to see where we are. We will see who can step up in that type of environment."

The added depth has given the players on the floor a great deal of confidence.

"During the past three years, we haven't had that much depth," Travis said. "This year is different. We've got a whole bench that we can go to. We have guys ready to come in and contribute right away."

Communication is a big point of emphasis for Chambers and the Nittany Lions this week, particularly on the defensive end of the floor.

"I think our communication has been alright in the first two games," Travis said. "There is always room for improvement. I feel like communication is the key to our success this year. The more that we can communicate, the more of an impact we can have on a game."

Looking ahead to Thursday's contest, Penn State will meet a Charlotte team that is 1-0 after knocking off Elon (73-60) on the road. The Nittany Lions and 49ers have met just twice before (1981 and 1983).

"They have four starters back. They have a great coach," Chambers said. "They are tough, physical basketball team. They play in a great conference, so they know how to be successful. They had a successful year last year, so I expect a veteran team to come at us hard and try to take advantage of a neutral court game."

The winner of the Penn State-Charlotte game will play the winner of the South Carolina-Cornell contest on Friday at 7 p.m. (ESPNU). The two losing teams will meet in consolation action on Friday at 9 p.m. (ESPN3). Each team will also play on Sunday regardless of the outcomes on Thursday and Friday.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

2014 Opponent Previews - Illinois

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10549939.jpegIllinois | Memorial Stadium | 12 p.m. | ESPN2
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State heads to Champaign on Saturday for a matchup with the Fighting Illini. Get to know Illinois in this week's scouting report.

Tim Beckman is in his third year as head coach at Illinois, with a record of 10-24 at Illinois and 31-40 overall.  The Illini finished 2013 with a 4-8 mark, including 1-7 in the Big Ten. They returned 47 lettermen and 18 starters from last year.

Last Saturday, Illinois dropped to 4-6 overall and 1-5 in the Big Ten, falling 30-14 against Iowa.  The Illini gained 235 yards, including 147 passing.  Quarterback Wes Lunt completed 14-of-25 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown. Reilly O'Toole also saw time at quarterback, completing 3-of-6 passes for 45 yards and a score, while also rushing for 29 yards.  Josh Ferguson gained 29 rushing yards on nine carries, while Donovonn Young had 25 yards on five attempts.  Mike Dudek caught six passes for 80 yards and two touchdowns.

The Illini defense allowed 587 yards, with 304 coming on the ground.  Linebacker Mason Monheim was one of three Illinois players to have double-digit tackles, leading the team with 15 stops.  Safety Zane Petty recorded 13 tackles, including 0.5 TFL. Fellow safety Taylor Barton had 12 tackles and forced a fumble.  Cornerback V'Angelo Bentley and tackle Jarrod Clements each had a sack.

Illinois averages 25.6 points per game, ranking ninth in the Big Ten.  The Illini average 360.2 yards of total offense, ranking eighth.  They gain 255.6 yards passing and 104.6 yards rushing, ranking second and 13th in the conference, respectively.    

Lunt, a sophomore, and O'Toole, a senior, have split starts at quarterback this year. Lunt has started six games, completing 65 percent of his throws for 1,671 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions.  O'Toole has started the other four games, connecting on 55 percent of his pass attempts for 745 yards, five scores and six interceptions.  O'Toole also has 106 rushing yards and a touchdown.

In the backfield, Ferguson, a 5-foot-10, 195-pound junior, averages nearly five yards per carry, with 581 yards and six touchdowns.  Ferguson is also second on the team in receptions with 39, adding 318 yards and two scores.  Young, a 6-foot, 220-pound senior, has contributed 248 yards and five touchdowns, while averaging 3.8 yards per carry.  He also has 16 receptions for 82 yards. 

Dudek, a 5-foot-11 freshman, leads the Illini with 51 catches for 787 yards and five touchdowns.  Geronimo Allison, 6-foot-4, has 515 yards and five touchdowns on 34 receptions.  Junior Justin Hardee, 6-foot-1, has contributed 18 catches for 230 yards and a touchdown, while senior Martize Barr, 6-foot, has added 17 receptions for 234 yards and two scores. Senior tight end Jon Davis, 6-foot-3, has 12 catches for 128 yards and two touchdowns.

The Illinois offensive line includes two seniors, two sophomores and a redshirt freshman.  They have combined for 79 career starts.   

The Illini defense allows 36 points per game, ranking 14th in the Big Ten and 111th in the nation. They also allow 493.5 yards per game, also 14th in the conference and 114th in the NCAA.  Opponents average 266.9 yards rushing and 226.6 yards passing, ranking 14th and 11th in the conference, respectively. Illinois has forced 12 turnovers.

Tackle Austin Teitsma leads the defensive line with 41 tackles, including 7.5 for loss and two sacks.  End Jihad Ward has made 37 stops, with four for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble.  Fellow end Dejazz Woods has 25 tackles, three for loss and two sacks.

Monheim, a junior, ranks second in the Big Ten in total tackles per game, averaging 9.8.  He has 97 tackles, 37 solo, 6.5 for loss and a sack. Monheim also has three forced fumbles and an interception.  T.J. Neal Jr. has 77 tackles, 5.5 for loss, an interception and a forced fumble.  Earnest Thomas III, playing the star position, has recorded 47 stops, 27 solo, 8.5 for loss, 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble.

In the secondary, Petty leads the unit with 90 tackles, including 39 solo and 1.5 for loss. Petty has broken up seven passes.  Barton has 88 tackles, 41 solo, two forced fumbles and an interception, which he returned 77 yards for a touchdown against Western Kentucky.  Bentley has 43 tackles and returned an interception 45 yards for a score against Texas State.  Bentley also has a 12-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Minnesota.  Fellow cornerback Eaton Spence has 46 tackles and five pass breakups.

Taylor Zalewski and David Reisner have split time at kicker, with each converting on 1-of-3 attempts.  Punter Justin DuVernois averages 44.9 yards per kick, ranking 11th in the nation. Bentley handles the kick return and punt return duties.  He averages 22.1 yards per kick return, with a long of 67 yards, and 10.2 yards per punt return.   

Penn State leads the all-time series 17-4, on the field. The Nittany Lions won last year's game, 24-17, in overtime, at Beaver Stadium.

What Tim Beckman is saying about Penn State:

"In all phases of the game, they play extremely hard and with great effort. They are very well coached. On defense, you can see a lot of guys that have been involved in that program and college football and play at a Big Ten level."

"[Hackenberg], as he's gone through this conference as a freshman and sophomore has been extremely successful. You see a football team that has played well and understands how to win. It will be a tough game for us, a four-quarter battle."

Contributions on all of the 2014 Opponent Previews provided by Student Writer Paul Marboe.

Keys to a Strong Offense

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10549605.jpegBy Samantha DelRosso, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.-- There's much to be said about a team ranked first in the Big Ten in hitting percentage. How does a young squad like Penn State attack at a .355 percentage? There are many key components that drive the Nittany Lions' offensive success.

Before the first ball is served in a match, the Nittany Lions will study their opponents to see what their blocking schemes are like. That way, the team can run an effective offense for that particular opponent. Depending on who they're playing, the Nittany Lions will make adjustments to the offense before the match so they can be as successful as possible.

The team also pays close attention to matchups. Outside hitter Aiyana Whitney said determining the offense for each match comes from who each player is matched up with at the net.

"If we have a favorable match-up and there is someone who is taller on our team, who can hit over one of their smaller blocks, then we capitalize [on that]," Whitney said.

Although it's on the defensive side of the ball, passing greatly affects the offense.

"When you pass well it gives you a better handle on your first-swing offense. We've been a good first-swing offense to date," head coach Russ Rose said.

Senior middle hitter Nia Grant agreed. She said passing is a very important part of the offense.

"[Getting a good pass] is huge. If we can get a good pass, you can do anything," Grant said.

Connecting and Communicating

Once the ball is passed, it's in the hands of setter Micha Hancock. Rose said the team's hitting percentage is an indicator that Hancock is making good decisions getting the ball to different people at different times.

Grant said the key to the team's offensive success right now is the connection that the hitters have with Hancock.

Whitney said communication with Hancock while on the court is a key factor in the Penn State offense. During the match, hitters can tell Hancock where to put the ball so that they can hit the most effective shot.

Both Whitney and Grant said the team's quick offense has proven to be very successful for the Nittany Lions.

"Because we have players that can hit different shots and different speeds, we can run a quicker offense. And that catches people off guard," Whitney said.

Grant said there are many players who can hit "quick balls", or balls that take little time to go from Hancock's hands to the hitter's. This has given the Nittany Lions the opportunity to run a faster offense.

"[The quick offense and having different hitting options] is what trips teams up because they don't know what to expect or where it's going," Grant said.

The top three individual hitting percentages in the Big Ten come from Penn State's roster. Haleigh Washington leads the conference with a .491 hitting percentage. Following shortly behind is Grant, hitting at a .476 percentage and Whitney, with a .395 hitting percentage.

Grant said it helps the offense to have three hitters in the front row together who are able to hit in any given play. This gives Hancock the option to set the ball to any number of players with confidence that it will be a strong hit.

"It's nice because Aiyana, since she's an outside, she can be with me and Haleigh in the front row," Grant said.

Having the top three hitters in the Big Ten is a testament to Penn State's strong offense. But Grant said they aren't paying attention to who comes first on that list. 

"We're not really worried about who is doing [the scoring] this year, we just want to get it done," Grant said.

The No. 4-ranked Lions hope to continue their offensive success at Michigan on Wednesday.