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2014 Gameday Preview - Nittany Lions Host Temple

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Game Notes | Gameday Central | Temple Scouting Report | Coach Franklin Wednesday

Press Conference Roundup | Coach Spencer Q&A | Player Q&A Video

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State (5-4, 2-4 Big Ten) will close out the non-conference schedule on Saturday when it meets intrastate foe Temple (5-4, 3-3 AAC) for a noon kick (ESPN2) inside Beaver Stadium.

10528695.jpegThe Nittany Lions enter the penultimate home game of 2014 after topping Indiana, 13-7, on the road last week. The Lions moved to 3-1 in games away from home this season thanks to a stifling effort from the defense and a record-breaking 92-yard touchdown run from Bill Belton.

Belton reached 100 yards for the first time this season in the win over the Hoosiers. The senior tailback tallied 137 yards on 16 carries during the fourth 100-yard game of his Penn State career. Belton's 92-yard scoring play was the longest rushing touchdown in Penn State Football history.

Penn State's defense again turned in a outstanding performance against Indiana last week. The Lions are ranked No. 1 in the nation against the run (85.6 ypg).  Additionally, the Nittany Lions are ranked No. 3 in the nation in total defense (267.6 ypg). Penn State is No. 6 in scoring defense at 16.6 points per game. Senior linebacker Mike Hull is ranked eighth in the nation with 11.2 tackles per game.

Sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg continues to rank among the top signal callers in the Big Ten. He is second in the conference in passing with 245.1 passing yards per game. Hackenberg is leading the Big Ten in completions per game at 21.67. He became the eighth Penn State quarterback with 5,000 career passing yards in the Indiana game. Redshirt freshman DaeSean Hamilton is the leader in yards (761) and receptions (64) among freshmen in the nation.

Temple dropped to 5-4 overall last week with a 16-13 setback at Memphis. The Owls are led by a stout defensive unit that has forced 25 turnovers in 2014. Temple is ranked 10th in the nation in scoring defense at 18.1 points per game.

Saturday is Military Appreciation Day and will feature the "Seats for Soldiers" campaign. Nearly 6,000 tickets were purchased for the "Seats for Soldiers" program and donated to active duty and veteran military personnel and their families, which is more than double the number of tickets sold in 2013.

The game will also include the "Parade of Champions," a celebration of team and individual successes from the 2013-'14 season. Penn State won NCAA Championships in fencing, women's volleyball and wrestling, its most NCAA titles since 1999-2000. For the second consecutive year, the Nittany Lions won a school record eight Big Ten Championships.

The third annual "Stuff a Bus" food drive will take place this weekend, as well.  A Blue Bus will be parked outside the Bryce Jordan Center from Friday at 12 p.m. until Sunday at 12 p.m. for donations to help the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank.

Welcome to the Gameday Preview for the week 10 matchup against Temple.

Pregame Reading:
What to Watch For - Penn State
10528675.jpeg1. The running back duo of Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch combined for 184 yards and 6.3 yards per carry during last week's game against Indiana. Belton talked with the media this week about the offensive line's ability to create seams for both head and Lynch to run through in Bloomington. Head coach James Franklin said the Nittany Lions will look for more consistency again this weekend against Temple. With senior Miles Dieffenbach back in the mix for playing time in the rotation, the Nittany Lions are confident in taking another step forward.

2. Penn State's defense is among the nation's leaders in three of the four main statistical categories. The Nittany Lions have tallied 65 tackles for loss and 26 sacks in 2014. While the starting unit deserves a tremendous amount of credit for its efforts, one group deserving of more praise is the second rotation on the defensive line. Ends Carl Nassib, Brad Bars and Garrett Sickels, along with tackles Tyrone Smith, Parker Cothren and Tarow Barney, have been productive every time they have stepped onto the field. Penn State's ability to play upwards of 10 guys on the defensive line is a big key to the defense's ability to limit opponents to just 267.6 yards per game. The Lions have held seven of their nine opponents to 10-plus points below their season average and six of the nine opponents to 150-plus yards below their season average in total offense.

3. Following the Indiana game, Coach Franklin singled out true freshman Grant Haley for his efforts on the Penn State coverage teams. A contributor on defense, Haley has been a central figure for the Penn State special teams units. Haley has made 14 tackles in 2014, and he is routinely among the first guys down the field on punt coverage. Haley's motor is relentless, and he is a critical member for the Nittany Lions on special teams when it comes to open field tackling.

What to Watch For - Temple
10528697.jpeg1. Sophomore quarterback P.J. Walker is the primary playmaker for the Temple offense. Walker, who started seven games as a true freshman last season, has accounted for 14 of Temple's 22 offensive touchdowns this season. A threat with his arm and feet, Walker has thrown for 1,679 yards and rushed for 183 yards (three rushing touchdowns).

2. Temple's defense has been tremendous at forcing turnovers in 2014. The Owls have 25 forced turnovers, including 17 forced fumbles. Additionally, Temple has scored six defensive touchdowns this season. The Owls are among the nation's leaders in points off of turnovers. In nine games, Temple has scored 83 points off of turnovers (9.2 ppg off turnovers).

3. Junior linebacker Tyler Matakevich has been a superbly productive player on the Temple defense for the past three seasons. Recording 101 and 137 tackles, respectively, in his first two seasons on campus, Matakevich is well on his way to another stout season at the outside linebacker position. Matakevich has made 83 stops in 2014, and he is fifth in the nation with 7.2 solo tackles per game.

The Final Word:
Saturday's game will be a homecoming for Temple head coach Matt Rhule. After growing up in New York City, the second-year leader of the Owls moved to State College and attended State College High School when he was a junior. Rhule attended Penn State and walked on to the football team in 1994. He played four seasons at linebacker under head coach Joe Paterno. Rhule tallied a sack against Temple in the 1997 matchup between the two teams at the Meadowlands. Rhule earned a degree in political science from Penn State in 1997. He coached against the Nittany Lions as an assistant under former Temple head coach Al Golden, but this is his first trip back to Happy Valley as a head coach of the Owls. Penn State and Temple are slated to meet for the 44th time in the season-opener for 2015. Kickoff is set for 12:01 on Saturday with Beth Mowins, Joey Galloway and Paul Carcaterra on the ESPN2 broadcast.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

By Astrid Diaz, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In less than twenty-four hours the Penn State men's and women's cross country teams will gear up to run at one of this season's most important meets yet, the Mid-Atlantic Regional.

Head coach John Gondak and the Nittany Lions are thrilled about the opportunity to host the region-wide event and they are looking forward to seeing some of the top teams the Mid-Atlantic has to offer gather in Happy Valley.

"I really look forward to providing an opportunity for the 32 teams that are coming in this weekend and giving them an outstanding experience," said Gondak. "I know [the meet has] been on [the team's] mind and I know they're excited."

Anticipating the Competition

The trails and locker rooms have been murmuring all week as excitement for the race sets in for student-athletes and coaches.

This Friday, the Nittany Lions will look to qualify for the 2014 NCAA National Championships and they're confident in their training, which has set stage for this race.

Coming off a record-breaking third-place finish at the Big Ten Championships two weeks ago, the team's confidence on the men's side is at an all-time high. 

"We're excited to get back in the game with this weekend's meet. [Big Tens] was a new burst of energy for the team and to bring that into regionals is exciting," said fifth-year senior Matt Fischer.

The women's side has performed with tremendous consistency this season in their pack strategy and concentration. This weekend looks to be no different.

"We have a really positive attitude going into Regionals and we're looking for some good turnouts," said senior Katie Rodden.

As top-ranked teams like No. 2 Georgetown (women) and No. 7 Villanova (men) trickle into town, Fischer and Rodden will look to edge the competition with their experience.

Both seniors are contenders for a positive result after showing continuous improvement at all regional competitions within the last four years and both have been preparing persistently as they hope to leave their mark in their final home outing.

"We just want to do what we need to do to get to the NCAA meet. We want to perform well and use that to get to NCAAs and kill it there too," said Fischer.

"I definitely want to be All-Region again and [I want] to help put our team in a position to make it to Nationals," said Rodden.


Defending the Home Turf

This weekend, Gondak marks his ninth Mid-Atlantic Regional competition as a part of the Penn State program and even after almost a decade of coaching the Nittany Lions, championship racing still sparks adrenaline.

"Every time we can host a championship event at home, it's thrilling," said Gondak. "As soon as the Big Ten [Championship] meet finished, the excitement surrounding the Regional meet has been building since then."

With this year's race location set for Penn State's home turf at the Blue-White Golf courses, the team will compete in a convenient and fun atmosphere.

"That's an exciting factor to this year's competition. We feel like it's an advantage to know that we're really familiar with the course. It's a nice thing to have and I think it will work in our favor," said Fischer.

"The fact that we're able to train on the golf course on a regular basis allows our student-athletes to have a really good feel for [the course]. It gives them an advantage but at the end of the day everybody is out there racing and racing hard and we've got some extremely talented teams in our region," said Gondak. "We're looking forward to going out and doing the best we can do."

Facing Opponents

The senior student-athletes running on Friday like Lauren Mills, Matt Fischer, and Katie Rodden avoid talk of leaving behind the blue and white as they approach the final stages of the season, but they're all aware of the opportunities that surround them.

As for Fischer and Rodden, they anticipate their last time stepping up to their home start line to be memorable and exhilarating.

"The mentality going in [we're thinking] it's a qualifying meet. I personally want to do whatever I can to help the team...Go out there and stay relaxed. [I want to] just help myself [and the team] have the best race [we] can," said Fischer.

The younger Nittany Lions are bringing out their best post-season strategies to ensure the team has the best outcome it's capable of and they're excited to compete against some of the greatest runners in the area of Friday.

"As I always say, I'm not big on predictions...I'm just hoping they can go out there and put themselves in a position to qualify for the National Championship," said Gondak.

The event will bring an exciting atmosphere to campus full of fans, athletes, free giveaways, and upbeat music. Festivities kick-off with the women's 6K at noon followed by the men's 10K race at 1 p.m. 

Preseason WNIT Brings Unique Start to Season

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By Mike Esse, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After months of practice and an exhibition game, the long-awaited season opener for the Penn State Lady Lions takes place Friday at the Bryce Jordan Center against Towson. With a team filled with youth and talent, excitement for the season opener is extremely high for Lady Lion coaches and players.

The noon tip begins the Preseason WNIT for Penn State, a unique way to start the season in a tournament format.

"It's a great experience opportunity for our group," said assistant coach Kia Damon. "We're still gelling and coming together and figuring out our roles and how all of this is going to come together on the court in competitive situations. The more games we can play, especially early, the more we can get a read on where we need to go moving forward."

Penn State has only participated in the Preseason WNIT one other time in program history back in 2002 when they finished in second place. Head coach Coquese Washington said that the format of the tournament presents a lot of benefits for her young team that has limited experience in an NCAA postseason tournament situation.

The tournament is pieced together just like postseason tournaments: the more you win, the more you play. Washington said having that mindset is a great benefit for her young team.

"It allows us to focus on one game at a time," Washington said. "We don't know what's going on in the other brackets all we can control and even focus on is Towson. With a young team that is pretty helpful to focus on one game at a time. You talk about it and you say it but kids start to look at the schedule but for us, you can't look ahead."

Washington hopes a long sustained run in the tournament can be a teaching point come March when the conference and postseason tournaments come around.

"If we are fortunate enough to advance through the tournament we know we are going to play some really talented teams every round," she said. "That's the biggest benefit I see you are playing in postseason mentality from the very beginning of the season."

As for the season's first opponent, Towson provides unique challenges for the Lady Lions according to Damon. Traditionally, the Tigers have switched from zone and man defenses, providing a little more preparation for the Lady Lions.

Damon said the coaches have told the players about the difficulty in attacking such a defense, but at the end of the day the Lady Lion brand of basketball they have implemented is the only style that will bring success.

"It can be a little tricky to attack so you have to be on your p's and q's and be alert," Damon said. "We're going to do what we normally do and execute our game plan and see where that gets us. We are faced pace advantage basketball and we are known for playing in transition is what we are known for and we're going to continue that."

A Lady Lion win Friday would bring a quick turn around, as they would play Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Bryce Jordan Center. 

Student-Athletes Part of Cutting Edge Advancements

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10395799.jpegBy Alexis Shelton, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State student-athletes have set a standard of excellence and a benchmark for success on the field and in the classroom.

In the latest NCAA report of Graduation Success Rates (GSR), Penn State student-athletes continue to graduate well above their peers nationwide. This year, according to the NCAA's annual study of institutions across the nation, Penn State posted a GSR of 89 percent. That 89 percent by Penn State is compared to an average of 82 percent from all other Division I institutions.

Academically and performance-wise, student welfare and athletic development are key factors in Penn State's consistent success on and off the field.

The athletic department is committed to continue adding more resources to keep student-athletes at the top of the ranks in many aspects of intercollegiate athletics.

iPads Distributed to Every Student-Athlete
One area of enhancement was the distribution of iPads beginning with the 2014-'15 school year. Back in August, the department announced that it would provide more than 800 iPads to all student-athletes across 31 varsity teams.

Associate Athletic Director Charmelle Green talked about how the intercollegiate athletics mobile technology program came to life.

"A committee was formed consisting of student-athletes, coaches, faculty, athletic administrators, educational technology services and Apple educators," Green said.

Green said that they developed a program that would allow the student-athletes to utilize the technology and the iPads to enhance their development learning skills. She said that this would also provide the ability for the student-athletes to communicate with faculty and classmates while on the road, as well as staying involved and engaged with classes while managing a very robust travel schedule.

"That's what this program was intended to do. It's an educationally focused program," said Green. "The committee identified applications that would enhance learning skills, and effective study habits as well to assist student-athletes with organizing work and other obligations."

There are a lot of exciting features and programs that are featured on iPads. Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics carefully took into consideration what exactly athletes would need in order to succeed.

"We thought about what sort of apps and links we wanted to install on the iPads before they were distributed to the student-athletes," Green said. "We wanted to make sure that we installed quick links to websites student-athletes use everyday, such as Angle and intercollegiate athletics."

This is a program that provides policies and the procedures that the student-athletes must follow. It provides them with information on how to maximize the use of the iPad for educational purposes.

"One of the apps that we were really keen on was the note-taking, notability app," Green said. "Our student-athletes expressed a need for this app, which allows them to take and organize notes. It would help them learn retain information."

For women's soccer freshman Emily Ogle, the iPads are indeed a wonderful tool to use.

"School-wise it's great," Ogle said. "You can pull up stuff on Angel while you're in class. It's really good for doing your homework on it. It's also good for traveling, and carrying that instead of a laptop takes away so much weight."

Green also added that the iPads can be used for everyday personal use, as well. 

"They can still use social network sites like Twitter and Facebook and such," Green said.

A big smile came across the face of Green when asked about the feedback of the iPads.

"We've got nothing but praise and terrific feedback from the student-athletes," Green said. "I know of one athlete who broke her wrist and she isn't able to write or take notes in class. Thanks to the iPads however, she's able to angle the iPad allowing her to type with a cast."

Of all the stories she's heard, Green said that the best stories have been about the athletes who are able to communicate with their families through FaceTime.

"Some of them aren't able to go home all the time, so when I hear feedback that many are able to communicate more often through video calling, that really makes me feel great about the benefits of this program," said Green.

Additionally, the student-athletes are also able to watch practice video and game film on the software.

"For us, our coaches are putting our videos on, which was an app they gave us," said women's soccer player Kindrah Kohne. "That helps us get video in and get to see what the coaches expect us to do and watch what we did wrong during the Friday games so that we can apply it for the Sunday games."

Finally, Green mentioned how the iPads aide students who are not able to utilize a personal computer for college.

Refueling Stations Up and Running
Another great addition to the athletic department was a concept of supplying refueling stations for student-athletes. Opening on Oct. 30, the refueling stations were added to multiple locations throughout the campus.

"The fueling stations are fuel and calories that we provide free of charge to the student-athlete," said Director of Sports Nutrition Kristine Clark, PhD. 

"Practice facilities, locker rooms and even athletic training and weight rooms is where they will be," said Clark. "They'll even be here at our Sports Nutrition office in Rec Hall."

Clark said that the stations will feature a wide range of foods and beverages.

"They'll provide nutrients, such as carbohydrates and proteins that assist in supplementing the athletes diet with calories they need for before an after training," said Clark.

"I believe that it will really help out with their daily skills development and performance in class," Green said. "Also, their performances during games and practices will improve as well. Athletes burn so much energy throughout the day, but with these stations, we're helping them stay energized all day, so that they don't get tired."

Clark spoke to the importance of enhanced caloric intake.

"The fueling stations will likely provide more calories for an athlete which will result in more energy at practice," Clark said. "They'll also provide good proteins and carbohydrates after the athlete is done working out. That will enable the athlete to be able to recover more efficiently and also be able to enable more muscle at a faster rate."

The refueling stations have a wide variety of more than 38 foods. The stations feature carbohydrate foods, including cereal, fruits and vegetables. They also include snack foods, such as pretzels and granola bars; and a range of proteins foods, like milk, yogurt, hummus and different types of jerky.

"The refueling stations are awesome," said Ogle. "It's so refreshing to have snacks because we're going all the time, we have so much going on and sometimes we just need to grab a little snack. It's really helpful." 

VIDEO: Nittany Lions Enter Season with Confidence

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Two days after inking the highest rated recruiting class in program history, the Nittany Lion basketball team will open its 2014-'15 season inside the Bryce Jordan Center against Morgan State on Friday (7 p.m.).

Confidence is high for the Lions entering their 119th season on the hardwood. Penn State returns four starters this season and has its eye set on taking the next step.

"We are healthy. We are getting better. Like I've said, we have a good mixture of veterans and youth," head coach Patrick Chambers said. "It's definitely been a process and a learning environment with older guys helping younger guys. It's been one of the better preseasons I've had since I've been here."

Depth will play a big role in Penn State's success this season. Led by senior D.J. Newbill, who finished second in the Big Ten in scoring last season (17.8 ppg), the Lions have the capability to utilize a deeper bench. Chambers spent the preseason evaluating how deep the rotation will go, but he expects the Lions to use upwards of nine players on any given night.

"These last couple weeks, I've played 10, easy," Chambers said. "But I think the non-conference is really going to tell our rotation and what everybody is confident with. And what we all trust. I think that is the most important thing. I feel like we should be able to go to our bench and get better. That's what I feel like. It could be eight. It could be nine. It could be 10."

Newbill enters the season as the most experienced player for the Nittany Lions at the point guard spot. But the distribution of minutes at point is something Chambers will continue to evaluate as he determines what will give the Lions the best chance to be successful.

"Throughout the game, there is definitely going to be times and good chunks of time that he will play the point," Chambers said. "We are just not dead set on saying that he is going to start that way...We will put together the best five that will give us the best chance."

Shooting the basketball at a higher percentage was a big point of emphasis for the Lions during the offseason. Fundamentally-speaking, Chambers indicated this week that he has seen individual growth across the Nittany Lion roster when it comes to shooting the basketball.

"We are shooting at a very good clip right now," Chambers said. "Shooting is something we worked on all spring, all summer and all fall. Brandon Taylor is shooting at a high clip. Shep Garner is shooting at a very high clip. Obviously, D.J. is...Payton Banks, John Johnson...The thing we are working on is (getting) uncontested ones. These last few years, we have taken some tough ones, contested ones and not great ones. If we can get away from those, I think percentages will go up."

That being said, the team has spent a great deal of time working on its passing, footwork and prep work leading up to shots. Focus is on the small details in hopes of creating better shooting opportunities.

"I definitely feel like as a team, we are getting the ball moving a lot more," Taylor said. "We aren't doing as many pick and rolls at the top of the key. Even if it gets late into the shot clock, we are still passing it running our sets or our motion offense."

Another are the Nittany Lions will stress this fall will be getting the ball into the post more consistently, giving the offense the look of an inside-out operation.

"As a team, one thing that we haven't been able to do as much as we have wanted to the last three years is put the ball inside as much as we would like to," senior forward Ross Travis said. "One of the changes you will probably see a lot this year is us working inside-out."

"I think, as a team, the bigs have made tremendous gains," Taylor said.

A consistent presence in the post is something that has Newbill and the guards excited about.

"It just takes pressure off the guards," Newbill said. "We can trust them with the ball to make good decisions. You try to get some easy buckets from them with their back to the basket."

Chambers has high expectations for the post play this season.

"I'm really pleased with our big men, their development and their skill," Chambers said. "Brandon Taylor, Ross Travis, Jordan Dickerson, Donovon Jack, Julian Moore and Alan Wisniewski - they make us a really good team. Something that we haven't had. It takes the pressure off the guards to make all of the plays. These guys are high IQ guys, and they are very skilled. I'm excited about them and how they are going to grow over these first two months heading into the Big Ten."

Friday's opener kicks off a busy stretch for the Nittany Lions. Penn State will play seven games in a 14-day span, including four away from the Bryce Jordan Center.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Temple Week Q&A - Assistant Coach Sean Spencer

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10525902.jpegUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State defensive line coach Sean Spencer spoke with the media on Thursday.  The Nittany Lions face off with Temple on Saturday at noon (ESPN2). Take a look at a Q&A with Spencer.

Q: How does playing against someone like J.T. Barrett help your defensive line in preparing for P.J. Walker from Temple?
"Any time you face athletic quarterbacks, you have to be prepared. Having faced Barrett, that was certainly a good experience for us. We are conscious of it every week. You never let the guys just run free, but you definitely have to be gap accountable. It's your method throughout the week so that it's not a shock when you get into a game with an athletic quarterback. There is preparation, and then there is, you better have your antennas up because this guy can hurt you in the running game."

Q: With your nickname being Coach Chaos, do you find it ironic at all that your unit has been so good this year because it has been so disciplined in gap integrity to stop the run?
"That's a function of the defense. I think Coach Shoop does a great job of gapping everything out, whether it is a blitz or base coverage or a run. We are just part of the puzzle. Any time you get safeties filling like Marcus Allen is doing right now. And then the outstanding play of Mike Hull, Nyeem Wartman and Brandon Bell. Obviously the front four get a lot of credit for that, but there are a lot of moving parts that work together to make that special."

Q: What type of pride does the defense take in being the No. 1 unit against the run in the nation?
"Well, you always want to take ownership in something. Right now, we are defending the run really well. It's something that we have a goal every week to stop the run. We've been able to do that. I think making a note to guys that, 'hey, we told you to do this and now you are No. 1 in the country.' Now, you have a great responsibility to do that every week. I think that is one of the reasons Coach Shoop shares that with the guys. Not necessarily as a pat on the back, more so, this is the reason why we are having so much success on defense is because we are able to stop the run. We've got to continue to do that."

Q: Which players have you seen take a jump to the next level since you arrived here?
"Certainly moving Anthony Zettel inside was a wildcard because he had never played there before. I think moving inside, he embraced that. It was a case where he approached it with a mindset that he was going to master the technique. He's embraced that really well. He's going to continue to get better. And he is having a very good season. And I would say guys like Deion Barnes. I spoke of this before. Two years ago he was the Big Ten rookie of the year. And then last year, on paper, his play wasn't as good. That's a guy I have high expectations for. That's a guy who has high expectations for himself. Any time you get a coach and a player on the same page, it's a great formula. It's not me pushing him, it's him understanding that for him to reach his goals and for him to be as good as he can be to help this team, he's gotta be exact in everything he does."

Q: You guys use the second team defensive line heavily. Take us through that process and talk about how that unit has progressed.
"That's been a philosophy of mine for years. And when I went to Vanderbilt with Coach Franklin, it was a philosophy of his. And it's the same with Bob Shoop. Bob trusts what I do with those guys. Coach Franklin is on board with that. I think all three of us believe that having fresh guys in there is better than having a guy in there who is tired and wilted. Those second team guys have earned the right to get on the field. You are in a room with 15 or 16 guys, if you've got a chance to play eight or nine guys throughout the course of a game and sometimes even 10, it makes your room even better. Everybody is held accountable. And everybody knows they have a role. No greater or no less in that role."

Q: Have you ever had a defensive line rotation as deep as this one?
"Not as deep and as talented before this one to be honest. This is a very, very talented group. I'm very confident that at any point in time when I put those guys in the game that they are going to do something. You get (Carl) Nassib and (Brad) Bars coming off the bench and making really positive plays that kept Indiana on their heels. That was great. A couple weeks ago, you throw Garrett Sickels in there and he gets a sack and we are in the heat of the game when he does it. You can't just put those guys in there for mop up time because it is not realistic. You want to put those guys in game-like situations. If in fact, barring an injury that you never want to have, it is not a shock to that (next) kid when he is in the game."

Q: Has this defense exceeded expectations in your eyes this season?
"No. I think no one rises to low expectations. I think you have to set a standard and set goals and try to be No. 1 in everything you do. I'm going to try to be the No. 1 recruiter in the country and I'm going to try to be the No. 1 defensive line coach in the country. And I expect the same thing out of (the players). There is no trophy for second place. That's our expectation. Have they exceeded that? No, I think they have met it. I think they have met the expectation we set forth as a defense and a coaching staff. We want those guys to be the best that they can be. Obviously, we are having success right now on defense. We have a lot of football left, and we need to keep that going."

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Lions Travel to Take on No. 4 UMass Lowell

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By Julie Bacanskas, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Fresh off a week of rest, the Nittany Lions are ready to face their first big test of the season, taking on a ranked opponent.

The Blue and White will travel to Massachusetts this weekend for a series against No. 4 UMass Lowell. While the games will serve as a challenge, the Lions are prepared and excited to see what will come of playing such a skilled team.

"They are the only team in the NCAA scoring more than four goals per game," said head coach Guy Gadowsky of the River Hawks. "They're ranked fourth in the nation. It is a great test. I didn't know this until it was pointed out, but their two top scorers are defenseman so it's not like you can really key on a line or anything like that. It is going to be an excellent test for us.

"Right now, we're just trying to get back into the grove. A week off can be a good thing in terms of bumps and bruises, but a really bad thing in terms of timing. We're just trying to get a little bit of compete back in us."

The Lions worked to restore their health during the short break. With a number of student-athletes both under the weather and out due to injury, a week off could not have come at a better time for the team.

Many, including forward Curtis Loik, believe the extra rest will be highly beneficial and lead to positive results this weekend.

"It's going to be huge," said Loik of the time off. "You know, a couple guys feeling under the weather and not feeling as hot as they want, it's a good week for us to recover and get back to our habits and work on the little stuff that we didn't do so well against Bentley and Holy Cross. We've had a good week of practice, and we're going to come into UMass prepared and ready to go."

Although in many ways, this series will serve as a benchmark for Penn State, Gadowsky will not be placing any additional weight on the outcome.

His focus remains on the completion of team objectives, which is how he will continue to measure the program's success.

"Our goal is to improve every week, no matter who we're playing," said Gadowsky. "I think a lot of people are looking at it that way. I don't think we are as a coaching staff. We're trying to improve this week as much as we can regardless. I think we recognize that people around the nation are saying, 'They had a great start, but they haven't played a top team.' Well this is a top team, so I think eyes are going to be on it."

During the last meeting between the two programs, UMass Lowell swept the Lions at Pegula Ice Arena, winning the first game, 4-0, and the second game, 3-2.

Despite last year's outcomes, Gadowsky knows the Lions have matured. At this point, there are no parallels to be found between last year's team and this year's.

"I think we're a much better team than when we played them last year, and I think it's probably around similar time," Gadowsky said. "I think we're a much different team now than we were then, so we're not really drawing on to see the comparisons."

Even with the team's growth, Loik and the Lions know they will need to bring their A game to compete with the River Hawks.

"Obviously, just sticking to our objectives and what coach says, like benchmarks of getting pucks low and backchecking," Loik said as he describe the keys to having a successful weekend. "Those are some of the things we have to stick with and not let fall apart. If we fall apart from that or fall behind, that's when we're going to start losing games. We just have to stick to our objectives, and I think we'll be fine."

Traveling to Massachusetts with a four-game winning streak, the Lions hope to use their newfound confidence to their advantage.

They are not intimidated by the River Hawks. Instead, they are more than ready to compete.

"We got some momentum from those four games," said Loik of the winning streak. "We gained a lot of confidence. Every line is producing. All the D are playing well. [Matthew] Skoff is playing unbelievable. I think if we keep that rolling we're going to be one heck of a team to deal with."

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Team Intensity Rises as Lions Prepare For NCAA Tournament

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10525858.jpegBy Miranda Kulp, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After ending a successful season with a 17-3 overall record and earning its 16th Big Ten Championship, the Penn State women's soccer team is set to embark on its last journey together in 2014.

When the Lions step onto Jeffrey field against Buffalo, Friday night it will officially kick off their NCAA Tournament competition, the tournament that gives no second chances.

Thanks to a superb regular season, the Nittany Lions earned a No. 2 seed in the 64-team draw.

Now, they're looking forward to the upcoming action and are using a the Big Ten Tournament result as motivation and encouragement to progress further in the NCAA Tournament.

"Give us the rest of the day and the bus ride home to reflect, but once we get back to the field we know we have another task we need to focus on," Whitney Church said. "After any loss we make sure we improve for the next game and concentrate on what is in front of us."

This is the Lions' chance to mount a run into the postseason, and head coach Erica Walsh is excited about the opportunity.

"The loss against Northwestern got them fired up and the players want to not only play in this tournament but advance," Walsh said. "The team knows what they need to do to win, as a coach I can see the intensity in them increase every practice."

The Lions will begin their tournament play with a match against Buffalo, and although Penn State is no stranger to this tournament, this will be the first time Buffalo has received an NCAA bid.

"Since it's their first NCAA tournament appearance I think we will see a great crowd for both teams during the game. I think it's going to be a really exciting game and great start to the tournament," Walsh said.

In a win or go home setting, the team is well aware of the consequences of playing in the NCAA tournament. However, they are keeping the same "one game at a time" mentality that has helped them succeed this season.

"We want to always move forward. We try and learn from every game and grow as a team," said Church. "For some of us upperclassman, we know the risk that comes with this tournament so we want to show the freshman what is expected from these games."

The seniors have played a vital role the entire season. With 11 freshmen experiencing the NCAA Tournament for the first time, the upperclassmen will be a leading the charge.

For the four seniors on the team, this is their last chance to make the most of their collegiate career.

"This is the seniors' team, they have taken all the younger players on their back and it's amazing as a coach to watch," coach Walsch said.

The upperclassmen have been able to prep the younger players and show them what to expect from the next two weeks.

Starting on Friday, the intensity on the field is sure to increase. With the start of the NCAA and the end of the 2014 season, the team is going into this tournament with determination and positivity.

"We're all really happy and super excited to get started in this tournament. We have a belief in this team and that's what can take us far in this tournament," Church said.

Frantti Looking to Finish Freshman Campaign Strong

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10525827.jpegBy Samantha DelRosso, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Freshman athletes face many challenges in their first year at college. From schoolwork, to practice and games, to keeping up with the level of play of veteran players, adjusting to college can be very difficult. But Penn State women's volleyball freshman Ali Frantti makes it look easy.

One year ago, Frantti was wrapping up her final high school volleyball season. Now, there are still five conference matches left before postseason even begins. The length of the college season is very different than high school. But Frantti is adjusting just fine.

"She's [adjusting to the length of the season] well and she's playing fantastic. To expect a lot out of a freshman is tough and she's producing," associate head coach Salima Rockwell said. "We're excited about what she's doing because she's awesome."

Another challenge for freshman athletes is being able to maintain consistency throughout the season. Rockwell said Frantti has remained consistent and her numbers are proving that.

"She's doing a pretty good job of keeping focus and trying to still have fun, while learning. There are some frustrating parts of the game, so we try to help her through those, but she's doing a great job," Rockwell said.

At the beginning of the season, Frantti was new to the Big Ten. Teams were unable to scout her, which gave her the opportunity to capitalize on their lack of knowledge. But at this point in the season, teams are starting to scout her more and more. Frantti said because of this, she has been trying to switch up her shots.

In only a few months, Frantti has become a very important aspect of the Penn State women's volleyball team. Head coach Russ Rose said the team can't win without Frantti and fellow freshman Haleigh Washington playing well. Rose said the team is dependent on Frantti performing at a high level.

"Ali's had a great deal to do with our success," Rose said. "She's a terrific offensive player, she's a really good passer and her blocking shows flashes of making great strides. She plays hard and I'm glad she's here."

Her skills on offense have not gone unnoticed. She has been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week three times this season and is sporting a .321 hitting percentage. Rockwell said Frantti's strengths are in her attacking, passing and serving.

"She loves to hit, hit, hit. It's great because she can score and it's hard for people to stop her," Rockwell said. "She's becoming way more comfortable as a passer and her serving game is really good right now. She's got a tough, jump float serve that is hard to handle."

During matches, Frantti tries to hit every ball that comes to her way, whether it's a perfect set from Micha Hancock, or a bump set from the back row, proving her unwavering desire to attack the ball.

In addition to her hitting, Frantti said her energy is one of her biggest strengths.

"I bring energy in games and I get the girls fired up," Frantti said.

Rockwell agreed, saying her energy plays a very important role.

"She and Haleigh bring the youth and the fun to the game for the older ones that have this sense of urgency to be great and win and [be] clean all of the time. They can bring everybody back down," Rockwell said. "Ali does a pretty good job of that just by being herself and [being] silly and a little bit goofy at times. We just want her to go hard and have fun. And it's contagious."

After playing for almost three months at the collegiate level, Frantti said she is seeing the game differently.

"At the beginning of the year, I felt like it was such a fast pace and I was always on my toes," Frantti said. "I'm more in a rhythm now and I'm adjusting well to the speed of the game."

Earlier this week, Frantti said she is working on improving her blocking. Against Iowa on Wednesday, the outside hitter recorded two blocks, one of which a solo block. Her nine kills also helped Penn State sweep the Hawkeyes.

Frantti and the sixth-ranked Nittany Lions look to continue their nine-match win streak against Minnesota on Saturday in Rec Hall at 7 p.m.

VIDEO: James Franklin Practice Update - Temple 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 host Temple at noon (ESPN2) on Saturday.