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2015 Tuesday Press Conference Roundup - San Diego State Week

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CPhdsJ2UYAASIhE.jpgVIDEO: San Diego State Week Player Q&As | Transcripts: James Franklin | Players

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin talked with the media on Tuesday to preview Penn State's home contest against San Diego State.

The Nittany Lions (2-1, 1-0) and Aztecs (1-1, 0-0) will play for the first time at 3:30 p.m. (BTN) inside Beaver Stadium on Saturday, continuing a string of five straight weeks of home football in Happy Valley. Franklin reviewed Penn State's 28-3 Big Ten-opening victory over Rutgers and looked ahead to the non-conference matchup during his weekly meeting with the press.

Coach Franklin felt like Saturday's 28-3 victory over Rutgers was the most complete game Penn State has played since he became head coach. All three phases fired on all cylinders and executed at a high level.

"I'm actually really pleased with how we're playing as a team right now," said Franklin. "I thought that game on Saturday was probably the most complete football game we've played since we've been here. Now, have we played better on defense? Yes. Have we played better on offense? Yes. Have we played better on special teams? Maybe not. But all three phases together, I thought we played great team football at this point where we're at as a program."

The special teams unit has been a bright spot for Penn State during the first three weeks. The Nittany Lions have big-play ability on both return units, and the coverage teams held Rutgers in check throughout the evening. Redshirt freshman Nick Scott notched a kick return of more than 30 yards for the second straight week. Scott is also an integral part of the coverage units, which forced Rutgers into an average starting position of its own 18-yard line on Saturday night.

"Nick Scott's making a huge impact," said Franklin. "Everybody is focusing on him as a returner, he's having just as much or more of an impact in running down the field. If you guys get a chance and watch the game, watch all of the kickoffs and look who is the first one running into the end zone. Even the balls that are kicked and not returned, we take a lot of pride in being disciplined and covering down to the end zone.

Defensively, Franklin noted the unit's ability to create turnovers. The Lions had three takeaways against Rutgers (two interceptions and a fumble). For the season, Penn State is plus-3 in turnover margin. A big piece to forcing turnover begins with the play up front. The Nittany Lion defensive line has been outstanding throughout the season. And Franklin even thinks the group even has another gear.

"I talked to them about I love for them to have more of an impact on first, second, and third quarter, although they were very disruptive, I still think more sacks earlier in the game would be helpful," said Franklin. "They did take over the game and dominate the fourth quarter, which is awesome."

The defense welcomed the return of linebacker Brandon Bell and cornerback Grant Haley in Saturday's win. Bell had nine tackles against the Scarlet Knights. Haley made two stops, broke up a pass and hauled in his second career interception.

On offense, the entire line earned the team's weekly internal player of the week award for its effort in a 330-yard rushing night. Additionally, the Nittany Lions did not yield a sack for the second-straight week. Franklin credited the group's aggressiveness as a factor in the growth of the unit, but the play of Christian Hackenberg and his recognition at the line of scrimmage has paid big dividends for the Lions, as well.

"Really proud of Christian and how he's handled everything," said Franklin. "I think he's doing a great job. We had very specific plays on Saturday that, if they were running a certain blitz that we wanted to check into the certain specific play verse the blitz, and those accounted for major runs and touchdown runs. I would say almost every single one of those touchdown runs are major runs was him checking into that specific look."

Following the Big Ten opener, the Nittany Lions return to the non-conference slate for two more weeks before seven straight contests in the Big Ten. Led by head coach Rocky Long, the Aztecs have appeared in a bowl game during each of the last five seasons. Franklin said the scouting report of San Diego State begins with its exotic defense that creates havoc before each snap.

"They play what I would call a chaos defense. Anybody ever see those defenses where they don't even lineup, they just kind of walk around and do all those things," said Franklin. "They blitz from every angle possible. So we're going to have to continue calling and managing the game the way we are right now."

The Nittany Lions will practice in pads on Tuesday and Wednesday before the final game week session on Thursday. Saturday's contest will kick at 3:30 p.m. on BTN.

Press Conference Notes:
- Penn State played in front of a tremendous crowd on Saturday night. Coach Franklin talked about the importance of the fans following the game, but he wanted to emphasize the group of supporters again on Tuesday.

"I want to thank the fans. I had a chance to do that after the game, but want to do it again. From the moment we left the hotel, the fans were everywhere. Driving down the street, they're pounding on the side of the bus... Get in the stadium, look up, the students are there in pregame, screaming and going crazy and supporting us. Focused on the warm-up, and next thing I know I look up in the stands and there is the stripe out. It's already formed and really cool."

- Coach Franklin on true freshman John Reid and his progress.

"John's doing extremely well...He's very, very competitive. If you watch practice, which I know you guys don't get the opportunity to do, but if you watch practice like we do every single day, every play for that kid is like the Super Bowl. I mean, he is so competitive. He doesn't want a pass completed ever on him in practice. When he breaks it up or intercepts it, he goes crazy like he just won the Super Bowl. That is the same reason why I think it's translating to the game for us, he's the guy."

- Coach Franklin on Saquon Barkley's team-first attitude.

"I think Saquon's going to be a great teammate here. He's going to make the commitment and sacrifices to help his team be successful. He's also going to give credit to his offensive line and special teams for providing field position and the defense for playing great team football."


Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Glen, Juha and Thompson Set to Lead the Pack

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11340455.jpegBy Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Building off its most successful season to date, Penn State men's ice hockey will look towards new captains to lead squad into the 2015-16 campaign.

Senior David Glen received the nod at captain for the season, while senior Luke Juha and junior David Thompson will serve the Nittany Lions as alternate captains.

After being voted the third captain in program history, Glen felt honored to be included in a small group of highly regarded players.

"For me it was always an honor to be named captain," said Glen. "It shows a lot of I guess what your teammates feel about you. Hopefully you did a good job over the past few years and are deserving of it and I think [Juha and Thompson] as much so. We're just honored and really proud to be picked."

The Alberta native, who has served as an alternate captain the past two years, will be taking on a greater leadership role this campaign. Juha and Thompson, new to the alternate captain roles, have quickly embraced their new duties.

"One of the biggest things for us is NCAA rules don't really allow coaches to practice with us right now," said Juha. "So one of our biggest roles right now is to get everybody on the same page as far as systems and having really good practices and having a good tempo on the ice to make sure that we're improving every day."

Thompson explained, similarly, that the roles of captain are displayed on the ice, but off the ice their roles serve a more holistic purpose.

"Right now you're always the first one, you're kind of the middle man to go through when it comes down from higher ups, whether it's from the marketing department or the coaching staff or hockey operations," said Thompson.  "When there's something that needs to be presented to the team, instead of them going out of their way or having to take time out of their busy schedules, they'll contact us and it's our job to relay that message and make sure that everyone is on the same page from top to bottom."

Getting everybody on the same page can be challenging, especially this season with eight freshmen joining the team. When the players returned for the summer and fall semesters it fell on Glen, Juha and Thompson to get the freshmen up to pace with the program.

Glen explained that although the freshman class is large this season, so far they have worked hard and have proven their dedication to the system that is Penn State hockey.

"We have a character group of guys and I think they're pretty fun to be around," said Glen. "[The freshmen] are smart hockey players and smart people and I think they're good learners so it makes our job pretty easy."

Thompson also wanted to give credit where it was due, as the level of difficulty in their jobs is defined by which freshmen join the program.

"I think you have to credit also the recruiting staff who really like to emphasize high quality and high character in this program," said Thompson. "So when you bring guys in that's what you expect, that's where you set the bar, and so far all our freshmen, they've come in and have met those expectations."

Penn State's captains have demonstrated qualities of high character themselves, like Glen's selflessness that led him to donate bone marrow in the middle of the 2013-14 season. Each has developed a personal identity within the team they hope comes to light during their time in the leadership role.

"I think I bring a lot of positivity around the dressing room," said Juha. "I try to keep guys lighthearted and excited to be at the rink everyday and ready to work hard."

Lightheartedness has its place in the locker room, but for more serious matters, Thompson hopes he's the player guys can count on.

"I like to think of myself as an outlet for people to come talk to, whether it's hockey or off the ice, academics, and personal issues," said Thompson. "I like to feel that they can come to me with any issues or just anything that's bothering them so they can get it off their chest so we can work and figure out ways so we can come to some solutions."

Lastly, Glen hopes that now that he has begun his senior season, he no longer has to vocalize his role, but rather display it.

"I think for me it's more about leading by example," said Glen. "I'm not a big yeller or screamer or anything like that and I just try to go about my business and hopefully show guys how to do it and do everything the right way."

As for leading their team in the right direction, the captains hope that all their hard work during the preseason will culminate in success both on and off the ice.

"Now that we've formed that foundation we need to start moving upwards," said Thompson.  "Obviously records and winning percentage is a big deal in this league, so having success on the ice is a major factor, but we need to make sure that we stay focused and all our qualities that made us successful in the past we have to continue to hold those close so we can continue to prosper."

Wins may mean a lot to the team and program, but so do the teams such games are played against. The three captains explained which games they're most looking forward to this season.

"All the Big Ten rivals are a lot of fun for us," said Glen. "Home and away those are awesome games to be a part of a great atmosphere."

Although Juha and Thompson agreed that Big Ten games take the prize for most thrilling and most looked forward to by the fanatical fan base, they also emphasized that their first matchup against Windsor will set the tone for the months to come.

"I'm most looking forward to the exhibition game against Windsor," said Juha. "We've been working really hard over the summer and into the fall and it's just good to put it all together at some point. That's what I'm working towards."

Until then, the captains will continue to lead both on and off the ice in preparation for what they hope will be the best season in program history to date. 

Megaludis, Retherford Set to Return From Redshirt Season

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11340362.jpegBy Ryan Hickey, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- Being asked to sit out for a year is tough for any athlete to agree with. That decision is made even tougher when that athlete has previous success. Both senior Nico Megaludis and sophomore Zain Retherford were two wrestlers with past success that were asked to take a redshirt season this past season.

Megaludis was a three-year starter for head coach Cael Sanderson. He was the national runner-up in both his freshman and sophomore campaigns. In the 2013-14 season, the junior finished in third place at Nationals as well as earning All-American honors for the third consecutive year.

For Megaludis, he thought sitting out was going to be tougher than it actually turned out to be.

"Every time I saw a match, I wanted to wrestle in it. But I realized I was doing this for a reason," said Megaludis. "Obviously I wanted to compete last season, but I sat out for a reason and there was a purpose behind it."

Retherford started his collegiate career by winning his first 29 matches, with his first loss coming in the Big Ten Championships to eventual national champion Logan Stieber of Ohio State. The true freshman placed fifth at Nationals in his rookie season.  

"It was exciting being able to start my freshman year and I was definitely grateful for that opportunity," said Retherford. "We had guys like Matt Brown, Ed Ruth, David Taylor, so I looked up to them."

Retherford went into the offseason preparing to wrestle his sophomore year. It was not until October that Retherford was informed he would indeed be redshirting the upcoming 2014-15 season. 

"I was prepared to wrestle. I had no idea I was going to redshirt until Cael [Sanderson] came up and told me one day before practice," said Retherford. "I am one hundred percent in on the program and in on our coaches, so I didn't question it at all. Looking back, I am glad I did it because now I have an extra year to wrestle."

Both Megaludis and Retherford echoed the same message when it came to the biggest advantage of sitting out the year. The break from competitive wrestling at the collegiate level allowed both wrestlers to take a step back and be able to break down what each of them can get better on.

"I was focusing on technique more than just focusing on the grind. It's sometimes hard to learn during the season," said Megaludis. "I was able to focus on areas I needed to work on."

"I was trying to add new things. I wasn't focused so much on the week to week as instead, I just worked on adding more technique to what I already have," said Retherford.

The grind Megaludis references is the daily scouting and practice to get ready for the next opponent and focus on their techniques more than his own technique.

Megaludis also credits the maturity he's gained from his three years of wrestling for the blue and white that allowed him to really analyze what can improve. Another aspect Megaludis participated in this past offseason was taking up coaching. The Murrysville, Pa., native credits coaching for giving him more maturity, which he looks to bring into the upcoming season.

"I was able to learn the sport more. Coaching helped me to see things from a new angle as well as helping other wrestlers," said Megaludis.

Retherford's training also differed from normal as well, getting a chance to learn intensely with one of his coaches.

"I had a full year to wrestle with Frank Molinaro, which was great because he is my weight and won Nationals, so he was a great partner. It was great just to get that year to really work on my technique."

Both wrestlers preached how excited they are to get back on the mat and compete competitively again for the Nittany Lions.

"I'm hungry to compete again. That's what you need to have if you want to wrestle well. You can have all of the technique and strength in the world, but if you aren't hungry to wrestle and win, then you aren't benefitting the team and yourself," said Retherford.  

"I can't wait to wrestle. I want to come out looking to score every second," said Megaludis. "I want to make my opponents hate wrestling me."

Megaludis and Retherford will get their first chance to get back on the mat when the season opens on Nov. 13 when Penn State hosts Lock Haven for a 7 p.m. dual. The Nittany Lions will host two Bryce Jordan Center Duals this season, competing against Wisconsin on Dec.13 and Ohio State on Feb. 5.

Monday Notebook: Johnson Remains Disruptive in the Middle

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11339668.jpegUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It seems as though a name you don't hear mentioned as often as some others is one of the most disruptive players on the Penn State depth chart.

The story has been the same for nearly all of his time in the Blue and White. He quietly goes about his business, but he does it in dominant fashion.

Defensive tackle Austin Johnson often flies under the radar of the public eye, but he is usually the first guy who stands out when viewing game film. Through three games, Johnson has been an impact player for the Nittany Lion defense and as disruptive as ever on Saturdays.

"I thought Austin Johnson played really well for us (in being really disruptive on almost every snap he was in)," said head coach James Franklin.

Johnson's stat line is impressive for a defensive tackle, but even it doesn't tell the full story of his impact this season. The New Jersey native leads the team in tackles with 21. He has 5.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks this season.

His ability to get into the backfield has made life miserable for opposing offenses as they try to establish a running game. The Lions have made 31 tackles for loss this season. Johnson has played direct role in 5.5 of those, but an indirect role in far more.

The athletic junior is ranked 19th in the nation in tackles for loss. As a team, Penn State is fourth in the country in TFLs and third in sacks. The Lions are also 12th in the nation in rushing defense.



Lions Finding Their Groove on the Ground

It has been a remarkable two weeks for the Nittany Lion ground attack. Penn State rushed for 77 yards in the season opener at Temple. In the last two games, the Lions have tallied 530 yards on the ground, including a season-high 330 in the 28-3 win over Rutgers.

Penn State's offensive line paved the way for tremendous night on Saturday for both Akeel Lynch and Saquon Barkley, who both finished with 120 or more yards. For the season, Penn State is averaging 5.7 yards per carry (6.6 yards per carry during the last two games).

Named Big Ten Freshman of the Week for the second-straight week, Barkley has dazzled during the past two games. He rushed for a combined 310 yards and three touchdowns against Buffalo and Rutgers. Barkley's 310 yards are the most by a true freshman in a two-game span since D.J. Dozier rushed for 359 yards in two games during the 1983 season. Additionally, Barkley is only the second true freshman in Penn State history to tally more than 100 rushing yards in consecutive games.

For the second-straight week, Barkley rushed for more than 100 yards in a quarter. He had 101 yards in the fourth quarter against Buffalo and 123 yards in the fourth quarter on Saturday. Barkley is the first player to rush for 100 yards in a quarter in two straight games since Larry Johnson did it in 2002 against Indiana and Michigan State.



West Coast Teams in Happy Valley

Penn State will play San Diego State for the first time on Saturday when the Nittany Lions and Aztecs collide in a 3:30 p.m. kick inside Beaver Stadium. It is rare for teams from the Pacific Time Zone to visit Beaver Stadium for games. It has only happened 12 times since Beaver Stadium opened in 1960. Saturday's game will be the 13th overall and only the fourth since 1976. Penn State has played six teams from the West Coast in Beaver Stadium - California, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA and USC. San Diego State will join that list on Saturday.



Early Look at San Diego State

San Diego State (1-2) enters the week looking to snap a two-game skid following an overtime setback to South Alabama at home on Saturday. The Aztecs opened the season with a 37-3 victory over San Diego before dropping a 35-7 decision at California. San Diego State has averaged 23.7 points per game during the first three weeks. The Aztecs are ranked seventh in the nation with six interceptions. Additionally, they have two defensive touchdowns, which is the fourth highest total in the country. Junior linebacker Calvin Munson has both interception returns for scores. Running back Donne Pumphrey leads the team with 249 rushing yards and also tops the offense with nine receptions.



Extended Game Highlight

Watch extended game highlights from the victory over Rutgers on Saturday.

Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Eckerstrom Continues to Impress Despite Narrow Setback

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10485346.jpegBy Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The fourth-ranked Penn State women's soccer team suffered its first Big Ten loss of the 2015 season on Sunday afternoon to the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The 1-0 setback brings the Nittany Lions to 6-2-1 on the year.

Although the Blue and White were kept off the scoreboard, there was no shortage of chances in the contest. Penn State took 11 shots in the game and totaled 11 corner kicks, but it was unable to sneak the ball past Minnesota keeper Tarah Hobbs.

A few of the most promising chances in the game came from long shots outside the box that were denied by the crossbar. In the 40th minute, senior captain Raquel Rodriguez ripped a shot from 22 yards out that tried to dip into the far corner, but it clipped the top of the bar and sailed over the net.

Later in the game, Sophomore Frannie Crouse produced a similar strike in the 66th minute. Crouse dribbled past a defender, cleared space, and fired a shot from the same distance that beat the goalie but not the crossbar.

"It's frustrating but that's college soccer," said head coach Erica Walsh. "I give Minnesota all the credit in the world. They came in and battled. They outmuscled us and beat us to the ball too often. We didn't make our own luck today and they did."

Sometimes, especially in hard-fought conference games, luck alone can determine the outcome of the game. On Sunday, Penn State's simply ran out.

In the 81st minute, for instance, sophomore Emily Ogle sent a corner kick into the box that found Rodriguez at point blank range. The All-Conference midfielder attempted to guide the ball to the near post with the keeper nowhere in sight, but the shot hit a Gopher defender guarding the post and bounced wide.

"I think it's all about making your own luck," Walsh said. "They absolutely did today and we didn't. Sure, we could've put one in the back of the net, but at the end of the day that team just wanted it more than us."

The unsurprising bright spot for PSU came from in between their goal posts. Britt Eckerstrom has been on a tear lately, and even though Minnesota snuck one by her, the keeper played a marvelous game.

Eckerstrom finished with five stops in the contest, none more impressive than a kick save to keep the deficit at one in the 68th minute. Minnesota's Sydney Squires received a pass and found herself alone against Eckerstrom with plenty of room, but Eckerstrom timed her charge perfectly and denied Squires.

"With 22 minutes left in the game, that's a potential game-changing moment," said Walsh. "You look back at those moments, and if we put one in the back of the net she's the one that changed the game for us, but unfortunately it didn't happen."

"Every Big Ten team comes in, especially at our house, with a lot of desire to put us away," said Eckerstrom. "Sunday games are always a special challenge but we have to be up for it."

Eckerstrom pitched a shutout in each of the previous three games, one of which against No. 2 Stanford. The redshirt senior owns a 0.78 goals allowed per game average in 2015.

"Britt Eckerstrom is, as far as I'm concerned, the best goalkeeper in the country right now," Walsh said. "Her leadership's been fantastic and this team believes in her and I believe we can go really far with her as our captain and our leader back there."

The Nittany Lions look to rebound on Friday against the Nebraska in Lincoln.

Fans Play Big Role on Electric Night in Beaver Stadium

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11337796.jpegUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Few things in sports compare to the atmosphere when the lights come on inside Beaver Stadium.

From start to finish, the Nittany Lion faithful left its mark in willing Penn State (2-1, 1-0) to a dominant 28-3 victory over Rutgers (1-2, 0-1) in the 2015 Big Ten opener on Saturday.

Give a game ball to the fans for their efforts on tremendous night in Happy Valley.

"The environment was unbelievable. I was told that before the game even started," said head coach James Franklin. "This is one of the main reasons that make Penn State so special, the type of support we get from this community and I want to thank everybody."

The fans executed the first Penn State Stripe Out to perfection. The visual effect was impressive, and the coaches and players on the field took note of the fan effort to coordinate colors to ensure that each section alternated between blue and white.

"The stripe out was awesome. I want to congratulate them," said linebacker Brandon Bell. "They are a huge factor for us. And we want them to keep it up."

While the stadium looked the part, it was the vocal encouragement that set Saturday night apart. Tabbed as the nation's top student section by numerous media outlets, the Penn State students brought their 'A' game in an unrivaled atmosphere for college football.

"They do such a good job for our program," said linebacker Jason Cabinda said. "I think the fans had so much to do with the win tonight."

The students make life miserable for opposing teams when the ball is snapped on the south end of the stadium. Rutgers was whistled for a false start on its first offensive play in the shadows of the south goal post. It can be hard to hear yourself think, let alone execute a snap count.

"It's hard to play in Beaver Stadium for our opponents," said Cabinda. "They had a lot of trouble communicating on third down. You could really see it. The fans do such a good job of being crazy."

Beaver Stadium had plenty to cheer about on Saturday night. The Nittany Lions tallied 471 yards of offense behind 330 rushing yards. True freshman Saquon Barkley again dazzled in a 195-yard, two-touchdown effort for the Lions. Junior Akeel Lynch averaged 12 yards a carry and notched 120 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown run.

"We have high standards in the running back room, but the guys up front made it a lot easier on us," said Lynch. "They opened up the holes, and we just had to finish the runs."

Defensively, the Lions allowed the fewest number of points in a Big Ten game since 2011. Rutgers managed just 43 net rushing yards on 32 rushing attempts (1.9 ypc).

"I thought our defense once again played well, made them earn it," said Franklin. "I thought we called a good game from that perspective instead of worrying about statistics. We played cover two and were able to stop the run and stop big plays."

Coach Franklin made it a point to recognize punter Chris Gulla a with the team in the locker room for his work ethic leading up to Saturday's game. Despite being the No. 2 punter on the depth chart throughout camp, Gulla practiced and prepared like a starter. Given the opportunity on Saturday night, Gulla averaged 41.0 yards on five punts and had all five of his kicks downed inside the 20.

Penn State has rushed for more than 200 yards in back-to-back games for the first time since 2009. There is plenty of room for growth, but the Nittany Lions are beginning to play with great confidence. Saturday's win was a complete team effort - offense, defense, special teams and the crowd.

"This is good momentum for us heading into the next couple weeks and then the bulk of our Big Ten schedule," cornerback Jordan Lucas said. "We did a lot of good work today, but the thing is, we can get a lot better.

Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: One-on-One Postgame with James Franklin - Rutgers

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VIDEO: Postgame Player Interviews

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin talks with GoPSUsports.com following Penn State's 28-3 victory over Rutgers in the Big Ten opener on Saturday.

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VIDEO: Postgame Player Interviews - Rutgers

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head into the winning locker room to hear from several Nittany Lions, including Akeel Lynch, Christian Hackenberg, Brian Gaia, Brandon Bell, Jordan Lucas and Jason Cabinda following the 28-3 victory over Rutgers in the Big Ten opener.

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2015 Gameday Live - Penn State vs. Rutgers

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Welcome to live, interactive coverage of the 2015 Penn State football season. The Nittany Lions are slated to collide against Rutgers under the lights inside Beaver Stadium for the Big Ten opener. Follow along for live updates from gameday.

Live Blog 2015 Gameday Live - Penn State vs. Rutgers

2015 Photo Blog - Penn State vs. Rutgers

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Welcome to live coverage of the 2015 Penn State football season. The Nittany Lions are slated to collide against Rutgers under the lights inside Beaver Stadium for the Big Ten opener. Follow along for photos from gameday.