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Hull Right at Home Making Plays at Middle Linebacker

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10442216.jpegUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When you think of Penn State Football's core value pertaining to unrivaled work ethic, you should visualize Mike Hull.

The senior captain knows one speed when he is working out, practicing and playing in games.

A fierce competitor, Hull is the benchmark for leaving everything on the field for the Nittany Lion defense. While his actions speak louder than words, Hull's production through the first six games of 2014 speaks loudest of all.

Simply put, the middle linebacker has been tremendous during the first half of the season for the Nittany Lions. Averaging 10.7 tackles per game, Hull has been instrumental on a Penn State defense that is ranked in the top 10 nationally and leads the Big Ten in three of the four major statistical categories.

"He's probably the most productive MIKE linebacker that we've been around," head coach James Franklin said. "He's quick; he's strong; he's smart; he's unbelievably passionate about this team. He goes to work like that every single day. He's been a pleasure to work with."

"Anybody that knows anything about college football should watch (him)," defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said. "(He) has played as good at middle linebacker as anyone in the country."

Hull moved to middle linebacker prior to this season after playing at one of the outside linebacker positions since he stepped on campus in 2010. He has embraced the move to the middle, and he feels right at home in a comfortable spot.

"Honestly, I've played middle linebacker my entire life," said Hull. "My dad taught me the right way since I was little on how to read linemen and how to read pullers, and things like that. I developed a knack for that in middle school. Moving back to the middle this year really lets me take advantage of those instincts I have learned over the years."

What separates Hull from most players on the field is his instinctual football IQ. He has a knack for being in the right place at the right time to make a play. Hull thinks a big piece of his play-making ability comes from Coach Shoop's scheme that allows the defense to play with instincts instead of thinking too much on the field.

"Coach Shoop and Coach Pry do a great job with us at the walkthroughs every single day at practice," Hull said. "The other thing is communication. You need to do a great job communicating during every period at practice. Off the field, I make sure that I have all of my assignments down so that I don't have to think when I'm out there."

Hull's 10.7 tackles per game put him in elite company. Only four Penn State players have averaged 10.7 or more tackles for a complete season since 1970 (Greg Buttle 1975, '76; Andre Collins '89; Shawn Mayer 2002; Dan Connor '07). Granted, there are six more games to play, but thus far, the results speak for themselves.

"When you are out there just reacting to things and not thinking about playing, it makes it easier to make plays and work at full speed," Hull said.

Hull is the quarterback of the Nittany Lion defense. Shoop often says that Hull is knowledgeable enough to call a game from the field in an emergency situation.

"He has an understanding of the defense as well as any player I have ever coached," Shoop said. "He's very confident out there. He knows the gameplan inside and out, which enables him to play fast."

There is an open dialogue between Hull and the veteran defensive players with Shoop. They bounce ideas off one another to cater the defensive scheme to best fit the strengths of the players on the field.

"When we are able to talk with Coach Shoop on the same level and let him know what we like and what he likes, it makes the whole thing run a lot more smoothly out there," Hull said. "I really think he gives us the freedom to make calls that other defensive coordinators across the country don't."

The aggressive nature of the Nittany Lion defense fits Hull's style to a tee.

"I really like how we are an attacking defense and how we get down hill on every play," Hull said. "Coach Shoop gives us the freedom to change the calls a little bit depending on the formation. We have a little more freedom to be in a position to make plays."

A Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, native, Hull looked up to Paul Posluszny and Sean Lee growing up in Western Pennsylvania. All three hail from the Pittsburgh area, and Hull shares some of the fundamentally-sound traits and tenacity of Posluszny and Lee.

"I followed them closely and watched how they played the game with such intensity and passion. I just tried to emulate those guys growing up," Hull said.

Like the rest of the senior class, Hull has seen just about everything during his college career at Penn State. This season is special to No. 43, though. Hull wanted to leave his mark on the linebacker position and Penn State defense in 2014. Through six games, there is no doubt that Hull is a man on a mission.

"This is something I wanted to make sure happened for my senior year because Penn State is such a special place with a strong tradition of great defenses," Hull said. "At the mid-way point, we have a lot to work on, but I'm happy with the way the defense has performed so far."


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Nittany Lions Volunteer with LifeLink PSU Students

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photo (8).jpgUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Approximately 25 members of the Nittany Lion football team spent some time with students from LifeLink PSU at the Lasch Football Building on Thursday afternoon.

In the October spirit, the Nittany Lions and LifeLink special education students carved and painted pumpkins on the patio of the Lasch Building. The group of 12 LifeLink students toured the football facility with members of the staff before heading on the patio to carve pumpkins with the Nittany Lions.

Founded during the 2002-'03 academic year, LifeLink serves special education students to help them in academic programs and gain independence. LifeLink partners with Penn State students to help the individuals in the State College Area School District Department of Special Education. The LifeLink students are between the ages of 18 and 21 years old.

The group of football student-athletes and LifeLink students had a blast on Thursday. As always, in the spirit of Penn State Football's core values, the group engaged in a competition to see whose pumpkin turned out the best. The pumpkins will be used during Fall Harvest Festival at Shaver's Creek in Petersburg, Pennsylvania.

The bye week gives the team an opportunity to interact with members of the community and engage in activities with groups like LifeLink. In addition to working with the United Way earlier this month, the Nittany Lions spent time with Bellefonte pee-wee football teams on Monday. A group of Nittany Lions will also participate at the Centre County Down Syndrome Society's Buddy Walk on Saturday.

On the field, the Nittany Lions will return to practice on Sunday in preparation to the Oct. 25 matchup against Ohio State (8 p.m. on ABC).




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Bye Week Q&A - Assistant Coach Bob Shoop

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10439363.jpegUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State defensive coordinator and safeties coach Bob Shoop spoke with the media on Thursday.  The Nittany Lions return to action on Oct. 25 against Ohio State. Take a look at a Q&A with Shoop during the bye week.


Q: How would you rate the way the defense has played during the first half of the season?
Shoop:
"I think we've played pretty well. Obviously, we are 4-2. In four weeks, we have done enough to win the game. In two weeks, we haven't done enough to win the game. At the midpoint to say you are No. 1 in the Big Ten in total defense, run defense and scoring defense and have some statistics that are in the top 10 in the country are very, very positive. I think the players are playing with confidence. I think they believe in one another. They are buying in. I tweeted about this and said this week; Mike Hull is the straw that stirs the drink. Anybody that knows anything about college football should watch (him). That guy has played as good at middle linebacker as anyone in the country. I think the front seven is legit - (Anthony) Zettel, Deion Barnes, AJ (Austin Johnson), C.J. (Olaniyan) and the crew. Mike Hull has been outstanding at middle linebacker. We've played well in the secondary for the most part. We've got to minimize some of the big plays and get off the field on third down sometimes, but we've played pretty good."

Q: What do you think makes this defense so good against the run?
Shoop:
"Stopping the run is team defense. There is no doubt about that. We are very committed in the defenses that we call on first down and second down that are designed to stop the run. The three things we talk about most in our room are - stopping the run, eliminating big plays and taking the ball away. Why are we stopping the run? Because we have players who are committed to that. We've got guys who understand the defensive concepts. They are maintaining their gap integrity. The front seven is a group of guys who tackle well. I think we are really solid up front."

Q: You talked about how well Mike Hull has played. Is it almost as if the play comes to him sometimes?
Shoop:
"The good ones, it looks like that (laughter). I think I've said this since I've been on the job. Rather than recruit players to fit a scheme, we've tried to tailor our scheme to fit players. You guys have commented on Jordan Lucas and Adrian Amos playing different positions. With Mike, it's kind of been the same way. We showed a highlight of the Michigan game. On Sunday, I show them the good, the bad and the ugly of the Michigan game. Each week, I could show 10 clips of Mike Hull making plays...He has an understanding of the defense as well as any player I have ever coached. He's very confident out there. He has great confidence. He knows the gameplan inside and out, which enables him to play fast. So, maybe he doesn't pass the dimensions test or the eye test, but all that guy does is make plays. He's played as well as any linebacker in the Big Ten. And I don't mean to disparage any other linebacker in the Big Ten. He's played as well as well as any linebacker could possibly play within the framework of our scheme through the first six games."

Q: Can you talk about the things Anthony Zettel has been able to do for you guys so far?
Shoop:
"Anthony has probably played better than I anticipated he would. Not that I didn't have high expectations for him. I've said this all along; on our defensive line we are really very static. We rely on athleticism and movement. He went from a guy in the rotation at D-end to a guy that has been exceptional at three technique. He has been explosive. He's been dynamic in there. He's got great what we call 'get off', getting off on the football. He's created problems. We've moved him around a little bit...Clearly in the first half of the year, his breakout game was probably the Rutgers game. That's when I think people in the Big Ten and in college football got introduced to Anthony Zettel. For us to continue to play at the level we are playing at, he is going to need to have a great second half of the year. He's going to need to play exceptionally well against Ohio State and the rest of the way."

Q: How much of an impact do you think the consistent pressure up front, whether it be the run defense or pass pressure has helped out the secondary this year?
Shoop:
"It's helped a lot. Every Sunday, we have goals and then we have a quality control sheet. You guys know I'm one of those guys who looks at analytics. Some people say stats are for losers. I don't necessarily agree with that. Stats tell a story. As long as you use the numbers correctly, you can solve problems. We've been really good on first and second down. Even in the Northwestern game when we didn't play real well at times or in the Michigan game, we've been really good on first and second down consistently. That's because of the guys up front and the pressures...Where we've needed to improve and play a little bit better is on third down. We've played good on third down, but in every game where you play really good teams and the margin for error is minimal, you need to play great on third down. We've done a good job in the secondary. Our best defends on third down is when we have brought pressure."

Q: It seems like you have been able to make good adjustments to what teams are doing during games. Can you take us through that process?
Shoop:
"There are couple things in play there...I think we have a very mature group. If you watch us practice. If you watch us communicate with one another on the field, on the practice field and in the meeting room, I think our guys are really mature. They catch up to the speed of the game really quickly. After the first series or two of the game, they understand how teams are trying to attack us. They make personal adjustments. I think then, between myself, Brent Pry, Sean Spencer and Terry Smith; Brent, Sean and I have been together so long that we have an idea of how teams are going to attack us. I think we've done a pretty good job. We've been on point with a lot of our gameplans, but we've done a great job making in-game adjustments. Whether it be at Rutgers, shutting them out in the second half. Whether it be against Northwestern after the first couple series of the game. Or against Michigan after the first drive of the game. It's our guys catching up to the speed of the game, our players trusting us as coaches and believing in what we are telling them, us as coaches identifying how teams are trying to attack us and having the ability to communicate to the assistant coaches on the sideline to the players. We've done a good job communicating in that respect. And I think our GAs have done a great job. The debrief we get from those guys has been really on point. It has helped us be accurate in our in-game adjustments.



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VIDEO: James Franklin Practice Update - Bye Week II

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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 return to action on Oct. 25 against Ohio State (8 p.m. on ABC).

Bye Week Notebook: Coach Franklin Update on the Off Week

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10434098.jpegJames Franklin Transcript - Oct. 14

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions are idle this week for the second of two bye weeks during the 2014 season.

With the season at the midway point, head coach James Franklin and the coaching staff are focused on utilizing this week as an opportunity to improve on the practice field and in the film room before attention shifts to the Oct. 25 primetime matchup against Ohio State. Franklin updated the media on team's progress during the weekly Big Ten Teleconference on Tuesday.

"We are excited that we have a bye this week," Franklin said. "At practice, we are looking forward to getting some things corrected and giving some guys time off in terms of the banging and the running. We will look at refining some things and take a look at some of the things we need to be focused on more. It's coming at a good time for us."

Franklin said on Tuesday that field position in the second half of the Michigan game really stood out on film. Complementary football is essential for the Nittany Lions to be successful. That includes all three phases of the game functioning at a high level. Strong play on defense and on special teams contribute to good field position for the offense.

"We've got to play faster. We aren't playing as fast as we need to be playing right now," Franklin said. "I think that's really in all three phases. I think special teams and offense is probably what everybody is focused on. But I think in all three phases we can play faster and play more aggressive. Running the football consistently and protecting the quarterback are probably our biggest challenges right now."

The bye week has come at a good time for the team to focus on correcting some of the mistakes that have hindered the Lions during the first six weeks. Nonetheless, four wins in the first six games of the season is a positive step for the direction Franklin and the staff are leading the program in.

"We are 4-2 right now. There are a lot of teams across the country that would love to be 4-2," said Franklin. "We knew there were going to be some challenges and some issues coming into this season. But I couldn't be more positive and more excited about being at Penn State...We are excited about the opportunity to play a talented Ohio State team next week. We are as positive and optimistic (now) as we were going into the season."

Penn State returned to practice on Tuesday following the team's off day.


Defense Ranks Among Nation's Best
The Penn State defense has played superb football during the first half of the season. The Nittany Lions are ranked in the nation's top five in five different statistical categories, including three major categories. Allowing just 60.8 yards per game on the ground, Penn State is second in the nation and atop the Big Ten in rushing defense. At 15.2 points allowed per game, Penn State is fifth in scoring defense (No. 1 in the B1G). The Nittany Lions have allowed 283.3 yards per game, which ranks fifth in the nation in total defense (No. 1 in the B1G). Additionally, Penn State is second in the nation in first downs defense (85 allowed on the season) and No. 4 in red zone defense (63.2 percent). Penn State opponents have averaged 2.0 yards per rush this season.

With 64 tackles on the season, senior linebacker Mike Hull has been the catalyst for the Nittany Lion defense. Hull leads the Big Ten in tackles per game with 10.7. Additionally, Hull is 11th in the nation and ranks atop the Big Ten with 6.7 solo hits per game.

Jesse James Added to Mackey List
The Mackey Award is handed out to the nation's top tight end. Junior Jesse James was added to the Mid-season Watch List for the John Mackey Award on Monday. James is third on the team in receptions 18 this season. He has 203 yards (11.3 avg.) and two touchdowns. The Mackey Award semifinalists will be announced in late November.

Ohio State Under the Lights Up Next
The Nittany Lions will begin a string of six-straight weeks of football when Ohio State comes to Beaver Stadium for an 8 p.m. kick on Oct. 25. The Nittany Lions and Buckeyes will battle under the lights for the third-straight year. Six of the last 10 meetings between the two teams have been held under the lights. The Penn State White Out will air nationally on ABC. Penn State and Ohio State have met annually since the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten. As members of the East Division, the teams will continue to meet annually.




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VIDEO: James Franklin Postgame at Michigan

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Head coach James Franklin addresses the media following Saturday's game at Michigan.





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VIDEO: Postgame Player Remarks vs. Michigan

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Several Nittany Lions addresses the media following Saturday's game at Michigan.






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2014 Photo Blog - Penn State at Michigan

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Welcome to GoPSUsports.com's coverage of the 2014 football season. Check back often for an inside look at the Penn State's primetime trip to Michigan.


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2014 Game Blog - Penn State at Michigan

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Welcome to GoPSUsports.com's live, interactive coverage of the 2014 football season. Tune in for live blog coverage from all 12 games on the schedule. Following a bye week, the Nittany Lions travel to Michigan Stadium for a primetime battle with the Wolverines.


Live Blog 2014 Game Blog - Penn State at Michigan
 



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2014 Gameday Preview - Nittany Lions Travel to Michigan

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GAME BLOG: Michigan

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

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

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Following a bye week, Penn State (4-1, 1-1) returns to action under the lights against Michigan (2-4, 0-2) on Saturday. Kick is slated for 7 p.m. with television coverage on ESPN2.

10418083.jpegThe Lions have posted four-straight on-field victories against the Wolverines, including a thrilling 43-40 four overtime win last season in Happy Valley. Michigan holds a 10-7 edge in the all-time series between the two schools, which both rank in the top 12 of all-time winning percentage in NCAA history.

Through five games, the Penn State defense has been tremendous. The Nittany Lions rank among the top-25 nationally in six defensive categories, including the top 10 in rushing, scoring and total defense. Additionally, Penn State is leading the Big Ten in scoring defense at 14.6 points per game. The unit has allowed 300 yards of total offense in just one game this season.

Sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg continues to rank among the top signal callers in the Big Ten. He is ranked second in the conference with 295.4 passing yards, 22.6 completions and 302.2 yards of total offense per game. The wide receiver duo of DaeSean Hamilton and Geno Lews is only the only set of teammates to rank among the top-25 nationally in receiving yards per game at 100.4 and 99.0, respectively.

Michigan enters Saturday's game looking to snap a three-game losing streak. The Wolverines suffered a narrow 26-24 setback to Rutgers last week. The Wolverines average 354.0 yards per game and remain the Big Ten's only offensive unit to convert all 15 of its red zone chances into points (12 TDs and 3 FGs). Michigan leads the Big Ten and is second nationally in fewest penalties per game at 3.33.

Saturday's game will feature two of the nation's premier college football programs. In addition to ranking among the top 12 in winning percentage, Penn State and Michigan are two of the winningest programs in NCAA history. The two teams are also among the most ranked programs in AP poll history, with the duo combining for 1,378 weeks in the national rankings.

Get primed for the 18th meeting between the Nittany Lions and Wolverines. Welcome to the Gameday Preview for the week six matchup against Michigan.

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Pregame Reading:
What to Watch For - Penn State
10418072.jpeg1. Since joining the Big Ten in 1993, the Nittany Lions are 15-11 in games contested after a bye week. The Lions took full advantage of maximizing last week's practice days. In addition resting the bodies of the primary contributors, head coach James Franklin and the coaching staff stressed film review and corrections as a mode of self-scouting the Nittany Lions as the season nears the mid-way point. Penn State lifted weights and practiced three times before taking a few days off at the latter stages of the week. The Lions returned to practice on Sunday refreshed and focused on the practice week at hand.

2. A big point of emphasis for the Nittany Lions leading up to the sixth game on the schedule is consistency. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg talked to the media earlier this week about the importance of each player on both sides of the ball doing his job on each play. From the pre-snap reads to the play itself, the Nittany Lions are seeking more consistency from each member of the depth chart. With consistency across the starting lineup comes a higher level of execution, which is what the Lions are focused on this week at Michigan.

3. Senior linebacker Mike Hull has been among the most productive defensive players in the Big Ten thus far in 2014. Leading the conference in tackling at 10.6 hits per game, Hull has been a disciplined and effective player throughout Penn State's first five games. The Pittsburgh native has a nose for the football and is a fundamentally sound player when it comes to tackling and putting himself in the proper position to make tackles. The quarterback of the defense, Hull has made 53 tackles in 2014, including 32 solo hits.

What to Watch For - Michigan
10418131.jpeg1. Without the services of starting running back Derrick Green (collarbone), quarterback Devin Gardner and sophomore running back De'Veon Smith become the focal points of the Michigan running game. Gardner is a dynamic player with good size (6-4, 216) and playmaking ability with the ball in his hands. Gardner has completed 63 percent of his passes in 2014, to go along with 131 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns.

2. The Michigan defense has been stout during the first six games of 2014. The Wolverines are ranked 19th in the nation in total defense, allowing 315.5 yards per game. That figure includes 100.2 rushing yards per game, which ranks 12th in the nation. Michigan has allowed just three rushing touchdowns this season and is holding its opponents to 2.93 yards per rush. Linebackers Joe Bolden and Jake Ryan lead the Wolverine defense with 48 and 46 tackles, respectively.

3. Junior Dennis Norfleet is ranked second in Michigan history in kickoff return yards at 1,977. He is one of just three players in Michigan history with more than 2,000 total return yards. Norfleet is averaging 23.6 yards per return on kickoffs this season. Norfleet also handles the punt return duties for Michigan.


The Final Word:
The Nittany Lions will play their second of three primetime games on Saturday in Michigan. Following the game, Penn State will have played in two road night games for the first time since 2008 (Wisconsin and Ohio State). The 2014 season marks the seventh time since 2000 that the Lions will play multiple night games in the season. It is the 15th-straight season that Penn State has played in at least one night game. Penn State owns a 40-26 on-field record in night games. That includes a 20-10 mark in road games under the lights. This week is just the third night game in Michigan Stadium history, but the first Big Ten night game. This game marks the fourth night game between Penn State and Michigan since 2000. Kick is slated for 7:02 p.m. on ESPN2.


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