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2014 Photo Blog - Penn State at Illinois

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Welcome to's coverage of the 2014 football season. Check back often for an inside look at the Penn State's final road game of the season against Illinois.


2014 Game Blog - Penn State at Illinois

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Welcome to's live, interactive coverage of the 2014 football season. Tune in for live blog coverage from all 12 games on the schedule. The Nittany Lions meet Illinois in the penultimate game of the season.

Live Blog 2014 Game Blog - Penn State at Illinois

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Nittany Lions Advance to the NCAA Sweet 16

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10569493.jpegBy Miranda Kulp, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion women's soccer team (19-3-0) used an early goal and a determined defensive effort to defeat UConn, 1-0, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at Jeffrey Field on Friday night.

The NCAA Tournament is full of surprises, but the Lions wasted little time getting on the board in the second-round matchup. Penn State scored in the seventh minute and never looked back.

The goal was scored by freshman Frannie Crouse and assisted by veteran Kori Chapic. Crouse got the ball and headed in the back post.

I wasn't really sure if it went in or not at first, but as soon as I heard my teammates and the crowd cheer I knew," Frannie Crouse said.

The Greensburg, Pennsylvania, native is currently the team leader with 10 goals for the Lions, despite this being her first year at the collegiate level.

I just always remember what coach preaches, believe. We need t o believe in ourselves and believe in our team and that's how we'll score," Crouse said.

Both teams were aggressive and had opportunities to score throughout Friday
's game. Penn State had 19 shots in total while UConn trailed with 10 shots.

We knew they would come out strong and so did we, I couldn't be prouder of the way the girls played," said head coach Erica Walsh.

With an aggressive offense from both teams, the Lions
' defensive line made sure to not to let UConn get on the board.

As a defense we're all playing really well together right now," goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom said.

We're all communicating constantly and we're so connected right now, we really are playing as one backline," Eckerstrom added.

As the starting goalkeeper, Eckerstrom helped lead the team to victory on Friday night with five saves for her eighth shutout this season.

Eckerstrom was also in goal for the regular season match against UConn back in August, but she acknowledged that since the last meeting both teams have improved.

Although we play some of the same teams in this tournament it's always different every game," Eckerstrom said. "When we played UConn earlier we both were just different teams, we both have grown so much with our regular seasons. It's cause in the beginning of the season everyone is still trying to find their place on the field. We both have grown so much so re-playing them today was like two brand new teams playing."

With the NCAA Tournament in full swing, Penn State will take on its next challenge by facing Virginia Tech on Sunday.

The best thing about this tournament is its unpredictability," Walsh said. "We are exposed to both familiar and new teams and we get to see what each team can bring. I'm excited to see what Virginia Tech can do."

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- The Lady Lions close out the Preseason WNIT on Saturday against Seton Hall, a matchup that has been on hiatus since 1998. With one exhibition game and two preseason matchups under its belt, the young Lady Lion basketball team is ready to place another 'W' in the win column.

Seton Hall's style of play is something similar to what Penn State demonstrates on the court; attack in transition.

Heading into this Saturday's game, head coach Coquese Washington and her staff are firm that if the team can attack the paint in transition, the Lady Lions will come out on top.

"We've got to get more free throws," said coach Washington. "We've got to get more pressure on the defense by attacking the paint."

The Lady Lions are known to be a fast-paced team that can sink baskets on transition. This season, the key to execute just that is point guard Lindsey Spann. A newcomer to the starting lineup, the Laurel, Maryland native is leading the Blue and White in scoring after posting 14 points against Albany and 17 against Towson last week.

"She's a fantastic point guard," said coach Washington. "She has a really high basketball IQ. She sees the floor and has a knack for scoring."

Spann isn't only focusing on her offensive contributions but how she can further aid on defense.

"I'm working on hustling, being more aggressive on defense, getting deflections and steals," said Spann.

Washington knows that the Lady Lion defense will have to be prepared when the Pirates come to University Park.

They're a pretty aggressive team," said Washington. "They've got really quick guards who do a great job attacking the basket. They're going to put pressure on our defense with their dribble penetration."

Senior Tori Waldner's experience and height is no secret for the Lady Lion defense. Waldner has tallied 20 rebounds in two games. However, the Lady Lion defense is looking to increase its total boards across the roster tomorrow.

"Seton Hall throws up a lot of shots," assistant coach Itoro Coleman said. "We have to rebound. They move very quickly in their offense and there will be plenty of opportunities for us to rebound. How well we are able to get the 50/50 balls will determine who will win this game."

The Lady Lions will tip off with Seton Hall on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. in the Bryce Jordan Center. 

By Astrid Diaz, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach John Gondak and two members of the Penn State cross country teams are headed west to Indiana this weekend to compete in the 2014 NCAA Cross Country Championships.

Freshman Jillian Hunsberger is making her National stage debut after qualifying at the Mid-Atlantic Regional with an 11th place (20 minutes, 49 seconds) finish in the 6,000-meter run.

The freshman has had a great 2014 season posting competitive times in all her races.

As most athletes would be, she is excited, nervous, and ready for the challenge.

"I don't event know what to expect I'm just going to go and try my hardest. Just thinking about the race, making sure I have it planned out," said Hunsberger. "I [mostly] mentally preparing, I will be excited on Saturday.

Fifth-year senior Matt Fischer has had an exemplary year. He finished first in both races he competed in at home and was named second team All-Big Ten at the Big Ten Championships.

Fischer, the Mid-Atlantic Men's Athlete of the Year, is making his second trip to the NCAA Championships this weekend after a phenomenal first-place finish at the Regional meet with a time of 30 minutes, 16 seconds.

"I was pretty excited and just to see how well the team did was exciting. It was a bit of a let down when we found out that we didn't make it [to Nationals]," said Fischer. "Personally, it ended up working out and I think it set me up well for this week."

As Fischer looks to end his senior year in the best way he can, his second trip to Terre Haute, Indiana provides opportunity for preparation.

"Last year was my first time there and I wanted to go out there and get All-American but there were 70-80 guys that at any given day could fall in there too," said Fischer. "I'm just more mentally and physical ready [this year] and I'm more confident."

In 2013, Fischer posted a 78th place finish in 31 minutes, 6 seconds, a 10,000-meter time.

"I feel that I still have work to do and I'm not satisfied at all and I want a big result this weekend," he said. "Making sure I feel good is all that matters at this point. There's only one left and I have to put all my energy into that one."

This weekend will see Fischer final collegiate cross country race, however, he doesn't fear the end quite yet as he stays focused on the mission.

"I'm really excited. I feel like I'm in the best spot I've been all season at the right time and as long as I can put that together on Saturday and I can walk away happy with what I did, it'll be a good end to the season," he said.

Hunsberger will represent the Nittany Lions in the 6,000-meter run set to kick off at noon on Saturday followed by the men's 10,000-meter run slated for 1 p.m.

2014 Gameday Preview - Nittany Lions Travel to Illinois

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Game Blog: Penn State at Illinois

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

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

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State (6-4, 2-4) will play its final road game of the 2014 season on Saturday when it travels to Illinois (4-6, 1-5) for a noon kick (ESPN2) inside Memorial Stadium.

10554078.jpegThe Nittany Lions earned their sixth win of the season last weekend with a 30-13 victory over intrastate foe Temple. The running back duo of Akeel Lynch and Bill Belton powered the Penn State offense behind a strong outing from the offensive line. Lynch and Belton combined for 222 rushing yards and a pair of scores in the victory. Lynch tallied a career-high 132 yards in the winning effort.

Defensively, the Nittany Lions forced five turnovers and limited the Owls to just 248 yards. Freshmen Christian Campbell and Grant Haley each snagged their first career interceptions in the contest. Haley returned his interception 30 yards for a touchdown, marking the first time a true freshman has scored a touchdown since Nov. 15, 2003 (Paul Posluszny).

Penn State is ranked in the top five in three of the four major defensive statistical categories. The Nittany Lions are No. 1 in the nation against the run (83.1 ypg.), No. 3 in the nation in total defense (265.6 ypg) and No. 4 in the nation in scoring defense (16.2 ppg).

Additionally, Penn State leads the nation in team pass efficiency defense (96.89), is sixth in third down conversion percentage defense (29.2 percent), is second in the nation in first downs defense (140 total), is 10th in passes intercepted (15) and is No. 16 in passing yards allowed (182.5 ypg).

The Nittany Lions have held their opponents to an average of 15.4 points and 139.9 yards below their season average this year. In the last three games, Penn State foes are 7-of-47 on third down (14.9 percent).

The Fighting Illini will look to snap a two-game losing streak on Saturday after back-to-back losses to No. 16 Ohio State (55-14) and Iowa (30-14). The Illini defeated Minnesota on Oct. 25 (28-24) for their first Big Ten victory of the season. Illinois is averaging 25.6 points per game on offense and is ranked No. 2 in the Big Ten in passing (255.6 ypg).

Welcome to the Gameday Preview for the week 11 matchup against Illinois.

Pregame Reading:
What to Watch For - Penn State
10554080.jpeg1. Senior safety Adrian Amos said that the Nittany Lions set a goal of forcing at least two turnovers per game. Through 10 games, the Lions have forced their opponents into at least two miscues on five different occasions. That includes each of the last four games. Penn State has forced 11 turnovers in the last four contests. Head coach James Franklin often talks about the importance of playing complementary football. The turnover picture speaks to that in clear details. Since the Ohio State game, Penn State has scored 41 points off of turnovers, including two defensive touchdowns. Simply put, the defense's ability to create turnovers has put the Nittany Lion offense in a good position to capitalize on short fields and score more points.

2. Thanks to a season-high 254 rushing yards against Temple, the Nittany Lions have gained 416 yards on the ground during the past two games. Junior left tackle Donovan Smith returned from injury against the Owls and senior captain Miles Dieffenbach played extensive snaps for the first time this season last week, as well. The addition of two veteran players up front is a significant boost to the offensive line and its ability to create running lanes for Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch.

3. Penn State is the nation's second-youngest team with 76 underclassmen (49 freshmen/27 sophomores). Only Pittsburgh entered training camp with more underclassmen on its roster (81). In all, 11 players on offense, two players on defense and two players on special teams (15 total) have made their first career starts this season. Nine true freshmen have played for the Nittany Lions in 2014, including five on defense, three on offense and one punter. All nine freshmen - Marcus Allen, Troy Apke, Saeed Blacknall, Christian Campbell, Jason Cabinda, Mike Gesicki, Chris Godwin, Grant Haley and Daniel Pasquariello - have been instrumental in helping the Lions secure six victories.

What to Watch For - Illinois
10554098.jpeg1. Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt returned to the field last week after missing three games due to injury. Prior to getting hurt, Lunt was among the top signal-callers in the Big Ten. Lunt has completed 65 percent of his passes and thrown for 1,671 yards and 14 touchdowns with just three interceptions this season. Senior Reilly O'Toole stepped in for Lunt when he was injured, and he will likely see action on Saturday. O'Toole has thrown for 745 yards and five touchdowns with his arm. Additionally, he has playmaking ability with his feet. Freshman receiver Mike Dudek has been very productive for the Illini with 51 catches for 787 yards.

2. Junior linebacker Mason Monheim is the leader of the Illinois defense. A Butkus Award Watch List member, Monheim is ranked 16th among all active FBS players and first in the Big Ten with 8.26 tackles per game (Minimum of 24 career games played). Monheim is second in the Big Ten behind Mike Hull with 9.8 tackles per contest this season. He equaled his career-high with 15 tackles against Iowa last week.

3. Illinois is ranked 10th in the nation in net punting thanks to a 44.9-yard average from Justin DuVernois. The Illini have averaged 40.85 net yards on 60 punts this season. DuVernois has kicked 17 punts of 50 or more yards this season and has forced 15 fair catches.

The Final Word:
Saturday's game marks the final road game of the 2014 season. The Nittany Lions are 3-1 in games away from Beaver Stadium this season, which includes a 2-1 mark in Big Ten games. Penn State topped UCF to open the season in Ireland. In Big Ten play, the Lions have victories at Rutgers and Indiana. Since 2000, the Nittany Lions have tallied four on-field wins away from home just three times. The list includes the 2008, 2009 and 2011 seasons. Saturday's contest in Memorial Stadium will mark Penn State's 12th visit to Champaign. The Nittany Lions own an 8-3 on-field mark in games held at Illinois. Kickoff is set for 12:01 p.m. on Saturday with Bob Wischusen, Matt Millen and Quint Kessenich calling the ESPN2 broadcast.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

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