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2015 Photo Blog - Penn State vs. Michigan

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Welcome to live coverage of the 2015 Penn State football season. The Nittany Lions will meet Michigan inside Beaver Stadium on Senior Day. Follow along for photos from gameday.


2015 Gameday - Nittany Lions Host Michigan on Senior Day

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Gameday Central | Game Notes | Game Blog | Press Conference Roundup | Lions in NFL

Practice Update | Coach Smith Q&A | Notebook | 1995 Snow Bowl | Security Increase

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Following a bye week, Penn State returns home to Beaver Stadium for a Senior Day and Penn State White Out clash against No. 12 Michigan on Saturday.

11378288.jpegThe Nittany Lions (7-3, 4-2) are slated to battle the Wolverines (8-2, 5-1) in a 12 p.m. (ABC) kick in the penultimate game of the season. Having won seven of its last nine games, Penn State enters the final home game of 2015 with a 6-0 mark in Beaver Stadium.

We're undefeated at home. We feed off of our fans," said head coach James Franklin. "It's a huge advantage for our defense, playing at home in front of our crowd. And excited about the opportunity to walk into that stadium and be able to play one last time in Beaver Stadium with these seniors and work really hard to send them out the right way."

Always a fan favorite, Beaver Stadium will play host to a complete stadium Penn State White Out on Saturday afternoon. A tradition stretching back to a student section white out in 2004, the Penn State White Outs have created an unrivaled atmosphere inside the 107,000-seat home of Penn State football.

Fans are encouraged to arrive earlier than normal on Saturday morning due to increased security screening measures in place at the gates. All Beaver Stadium gates will open at 10 a.m.

Led by Penn State's season sack record holder, Carl Nassib, the Nittany Lion defense enters the final two weeks of the season as the nation's leader in sacks. Penn State has averaged 4.2 sacks per game throughout 2015. Additionally, the Lions are No. 2 in the nation in tackles for loss at 9.3 per game. Nassib leads the country individually in sacks with 15.5.

Led by first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh, Michigan (8-2, 4-1 Big Ten) heads into the week having won its last three contests. The Wolverines topped Indiana in dramatic fashion on Saturday afternoon in Bloomington. Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock connected with wide receiver Jehu Chesson on a fourth-down touchdown in the final seconds of regulation to send the game into overtime. Michigan outlasted the Hoosiers in double OT by a score of 48-41. Michigan's two losses on the season came at No. 18 Utah (24-17) and in a dramatic finish against No. 9 Michigan State (27-23).

The Nittany Lions and Wolverines rank among the Big Ten's best defenses. Michigan is ranked No. 1 in total defense (268.7 ypg) and the Nittany Lions are ranked No. 4 (311.2 ypg). In scoring defense, Michigan is No. 3 in the Big Ten (14.8 ppg) and Penn State is No. 5 (17.7 ppg).

In a series that dates back to 1993, Penn State and Michigan will meet for the 19th time on Saturday. The Nittany Lions are 7-11 all-time against the Wolverines and 4-5 in games held at Beaver Stadium. Penn State has won the last three against Michigan in Beaver Stadium, including the thrilling 43-40 four-overtime win in 2013.

Penn State will close out its regular season next week with a trip to East Lansing. The Nittany Lions will battle Michigan State in Spartan Stadium during a 3:30 p.m. kick. From there, Penn State will await its bowl destination with the announcement coming on Dec. 6.

Welcome to the gameday preview for week 11 - Penn State vs. Michigan.

Pregame Reading:
What to Watch For - Penn State
11500062.jpeg1. It will be a special day for 19 senior members of the Penn State Football family on Saturday. The senior day festivities will begin approximately 30 minutes prior to kickoff in Beaver Stadium with each member of the class being recognized in front of the fans. For the fourth and fifth-year seniors, Saturday marks the end of a remarkable ride in Beaver Stadium. The group faced tall odds throughout its journey in Happy Valley, but the senior class will forever be remembered for its loyalty and commitment to the betterment of the University and football program. Give a tip of the cap to the 2015 senior class: Matt Baney, Tarow Barney, Kyle Carter, Jordan Dudas, Jack Haffner, Albert Hall, Colin Harrop, Charles Idemudia, Brandon Johnson, Ben Kline, Jordan Lucas, Angelo Mangiro, Carl Nassib, Kevin Reihner, Dom Salomone, Anthony Smith, Trevor Williams, Anthony Zettel and Matt Zanellato.

2. It has been home sweet home for the Nittany Lion defense in 2015. Through six games, the Lions have allowed a total of 59 points inside Beaver Stadium. In Big Ten play, Penn State has yielded just 10 total points in three home games. The Nittany Lions are No. 3 in the nation in fewest points allowed in home games at 9.8 per game. Penn State's opponents have averaged just 250.7 yards per game. Penn State's defensive line has been a huge piece to the team's unblemished mark at home. Senior defensive end Carl Nassib has tallied 10.0 of his nation-leading 15.5 sacks in games played at Beaver Stadium this season. Additionally, the Lions are plus-7 in turnover margin in home games this season.

3. The Nittany Lion offense has made a living of creating big plays at timely moments in 2015. Junior quarterback Christian Hackenberg and the passing attack have accounted for 31 plays of 20 or more yards this season. The running game has tallied 18 plays of 20 or more yards, as well. Against one of the nation's top defensive units, the Nittany Lions will be looking for a way to manufacture some plays down the field. Hackenberg has been superb in games at Beaver Stadium this season, tossing nine touchdown passes and just one interception.

What to Watch For - Michigan
1. Graduate senior quarterback Jake Rudock has been terrific down the stretch for the Wolverines. A starter in all 10 games, Rudock has completed 64 percent of his passes and 2,220 yards. Rudock became the first Big Ten quarterback to pass for 400 yards and six touchdowns in a game last week. The wide receiver tandem of Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson and tight end Jake Butt are the top targets for Rudock. Darboh (45), Butt (38) and Chesson (33) have each eclipsed 450 yards on the season and account for 13 of Michigan's 15 touchdown receptions.

2. The theme around the Michigan defense is consistency. The Wolverines have been among the nation's top statistical units since the opening week of the season. In addition to being ranked in the top five in total defense (No. 2), scoring defense (No. 6), rushing defense (No. 8), pass defense (No. 6) and third down defense (No. 3), Michigan has limited its opponents to just 4.18 yards per play this season. The Wolverines are physical in the trenches and athletic in the secondary. Inside linebacker Joe Bolden leads the defense in tackling with 64 stops. Cornerback Jourdan Lewis is leading the nation with 2.0 pass breakups per game. Michigan's defense has been outstanding on third down in 2015, as well, limiting its opponents to a 23 percent conversion rate.

3. Redshirt freshman safety Jabrill Peppers is one of the most dynamic athletes in the Big Ten. Peppers will play on offense, defense and special teams for the Wolverines on Saturday. Peppers is fifth on the team in tackles (37), has scored two rushing touchdowns, caught six passes and is the team's top returner. He is ranked No. 13 in the nation in punt returns. As a team, Michigan is No. 2 nationally in kickoff returns.

The Final Word:
Saturday's game will mark the eighth time the Nittany Lions will host a full stadium Penn State White Out. The history of the event began on Oct. 9, 2004 when the first student white out was held when the Nittany Lions hosted Purdue. Since then, there has been either a student section white out or full stadium white out in each of the past 11 seasons.

The first full stadium Penn State White Out took place on Sept. 8, 2007 when the Lions defeated Notre Dame, 31-10. Saturday will mark the second time Penn State has played Michigan in a full stadium Penn State White Out. The Lions outlasted the Wolverines in a thrilling four-overtime game (43-40) during Michigan's last visit to Beaver Stadium on Oct. 12, 2013.

Penn State will be looking to finish off its first unbeaten season at home since 2008. Additionally, the Lions are 20-5 on Senior Day since 1990. ABC's live coverage of the Michigan game begins at 12 p.m. ET with kickoff slated for 12:01 p.m. Bob Wischusen (Play-by-Play), Brock Huard (Analyst) and Shannon Spake (Sideline) will call the game.

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

Michigan Week Q&A - Terry Smith

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions host Michigan on Senior Day and the Penn State White Out on Saturday at noon (ABC).

Leading up to the contest against the Wolverines, defensive recruiting coordinator and cornerbacks coach Terry M. Smith talked with the media on Thursday. Take a look at a Q&A with Coach Smith.

Q: How will the loss of Jordan Lucas impact the secondary moving forward?

Smith: "Well, clearly the loss of a senior captain is going to hurt any unit. He was the leader of the secondary. He was the leader on the back end of our defense. He was a guy all of the players in the locker room respect and look to. We are going to lose big time leadership and a big time player who could make plays. Like anything and any organization in football, we have to have the next guy step up, and that's Malik Golden. We have a really good defense, and we expect Malik to step in and fill Jordan's shoes and play equally or better. That's just the way we are shaped and molded as a defense. Malik will be ready to step in and play well on Saturday."

Q: Can you evaluate the progress that John Reid has made during his freshman season?

Smith: "John Reid is an exceptional talent. He is one of our best cover guys. He is really, really smart. He's an exceptional worker. He gets every ounce of his ability out of himself. The game is important to him. He plays that way. He plays intense. He asks a million questions in meetings, which are all good questions. That's why he is prepared on Saturdays. And that's why he makes very few mental mistakes. And to do that as a true freshman, that's a testament to himself and his high school coach who prepared him really, really well when he walked in the door here."

Q: How have you seen Grant Haley improve this season?
Smith: "He has great maturity. He doesn't get too rattled. He doesn't get too high. He doesn't get too low. Even in a situation like Northwestern, he maintains a levelness you need at the position. Grant is poised to be a very consistent player. He's been a very good leader for us. He's played some really good football for us, and he is a very important piece on our defense."

Q: What have you seen from the Michigan passing game during the past two weeks to make it click?

Smith: "I think the quarterback, Jake Rudock, is really coming into his own. I think he is really comfortable in the system. I think he is taking command of the offense. And I think he is executing the plan that their coaching staff has in place. And then they have some big-play targets. The two receivers - (Jehu) Chesson and (Amara) Darboh - they are making plays. And the tight end (Jake) Butt is making plays. And you can't throw out the x-factor in Jabrill Peppers. They just have a number of weapons that you have to account for on each play. And they are starting to spread it, and it's making them a little more dangerous each week as the season goes on."

Q: You are focusing on your defense, but if you have had a chance watch any film of Michigan CB Jourdan Lewis, what is your take on him and the matchup between the Michigan cornerbacks and your receivers?

Smith: "We get to watch some film in previous weeks that's like crossover film, so we've had an opportunity to see two or three of their crossover games. I think he is exceptional. He's one of the best corners in the Big Ten, if not the nation. He has really good feet and loose hips. He's an ultimate competitor. He challenges releases. He challenges the 50-50 balls. He's a good matchup for our receivers. We've got some good receivers on this team, and it will be a good challenge for those guys on Saturday."

Q: How important is it for a cornerback to play with some swagger and what type of personality does your group play with on the field?
Smith: "Each individual guys is his own guy...My guys in particular and when you look at Grant (Haley) and Trevor (Williams) and John Reid and Christian (Campbell), John Reid is probably the most talkative, but he only talks when the ball is coming at him. And he doesn't really talk to the receiver, he kind of talks to himself to get himself going. The other guys don't really say too much. They are just business-oriented guys. And they understand that each play is important, and they are ready to strap up and play 60 to 70 plays if needed."

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

VIDEO: James Franklin Practice Update - Michigan Week

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin addressed the media following Wednesday's practice session at the Lasch Football Complex.

The Nittany Lions host No. 12 Michigan for a 12 p.m. (ABC) kick on Senior Day in Beaver Stadium. Take a look at the practice update from Michigan week.

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Twenty Years Later - Remembering Penn State vs. Michigan in 1995

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Mich95_Blog 3.jpgUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State and Michigan will collide for the 19th time on Saturday afternoon when the Nittany Lions welcome the Wolverines for a noon kick on ABC.

Today marks a historic day in the history between two of college football's greatest programs.

On Nov. 18, 1995, Penn State and Michigan battled in a game simply known as "The Snow Bowl" inside Beaver Stadium. A surprise storm blanketed 18 inches of snow in Happy Valley just three days before the game. Penn State Athletics paid hundreds of volunteers to feverishly remove the snow from Beaver Stadium before the game.

The snow removal crew included 188 prisoners from area correctional institutions. And despite the significant snowfall and severely limited parking around the stadium, approximately 80,000 spectators filled Beaver Stadium to watch the Hall of Fame head coach Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions and the Wolverines, led by first-year head coach Lloyd Carr.

The play of the game came in the final three minutes of action when the Nittany Lions used a fake field goal attempt to seal a 27-17 victory over the Wolverines. With the clock reading 2:40 to play and the Lions leading 20-17, kicker Brett Conway lined up for a 19-yard field goal attempt. However, the snap went to holder Joe Nastasi, a sophomore wide receiver at the time, who breezed into the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown to help clinch the win over the 12th-ranked Wolverines.

"We were going to run it all game, we just didn't know when," Nastasi said to the media after the game. "It felt good, especially against Michigan. I just knew it was going to happen. I wasn't going to be denied on that one."

With snow piles lining the perimeter of the Beaver Stadium playing surface, the Nittany Lions jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the second quarter following a 49-yard field goal from Conway and a 13-yard touchdown pass from Wally Richardson to Mike Archie. Michigan answered in the form of a Brian Griese touchdown pass to Amani Toomer, but Conway added a 51-yard field goal to make it a 13-7 game at halftime.

Michigan tallied a field goal to set the score at 13-10 heading into the fourth quarter. Richardson and Bobby Engram connected on a 12-yard scoring play in the fourth quarter to make it a 20-10 game. Michigan pulled to within three on an 18-yard touchdown run from Tim Biakabutuka before Nastasi's clinching touchdown run.

Led by Coach Paterno, the victory marked the second of three-straight for Penn State against Michigan.

The Nittany Lions finished with 438 total yards, including 245 on the ground. Penn State running back Stephen Pitts rushed for a career-high 164 yards on 17 carries. Richardson was 17-for-31 for 193 yards and had two touchdowns through the air. Engram was Penn State's leading receiver with five catches for 87 yards.

In a series marked by close games, the 1995 victory is one of 11 games between the Nittany Lions and Wolverines decided by 10 points or fewer.

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2015 Tuesday Press Conference Roundup - Michigan Week

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11494693.jpegVIDEO: Michigan Week Player Q&A | Transcripts - James Franklin | Players

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Following a bye week, head coach James Franklin addressed the media on Tuesday afternoon to preview Penn State's home finale against Michigan.

The Nittany Lions (7-3, 4-2) will meet the Wolverines (8-2, 5-1) on Saturday at 12 p.m. (ABC) inside Beaver Stadium. Franklin reviewed Penn State's off week and looked ahead to the Senior Day clash against Michigan.

The 2015 senior class may be small in number (19 players will be recognized on Saturday prior to kickoff), but this is a group of Penn State student-athletes who have demonstrated unrivaled commitment and passion for the University and the football program.

It's a group that has seen more during the past four or five years on campus than most programs see in several decades. The seniors have forged a bond with one another and the football program that has truly made the situation incredibly unique.

"You just think about everything that these guys have been through, and they're kind of the glue," said Franklin. "They're the glue that kept this program together. They're the glue and the foundation that stood strong when Penn State needed them the most."

No group is more deserving than a proper sendoff on Saturday. The Senior Day ceremony is always a special occasion, but the Penn State fans should treat this day a little different than most. Without this senior class, it's hard to envision where the program might be right now.

"For us to go into that stadium with a sellout on Senior Day and it to be a whiteout and for this community and our students and our fans and the alumni to come together more than anything to support these young men and let them know how much we mean to them, how much they mean to us, I think is important," said Franklin.

On the field, the Lions will be well rested when they take the field for Saturday's contest against Michigan. The team practiced on an abbreviated schedule during the bye week to ensure the group could get proper rest to remain as fresh as possible for the final two games of the regular season.

The bye week was a productive one, though. The Lions implemented corrections following the last outing and began looking forward to preparing for Michigan. The players had an opportunity to go home over the weekend, and most of the squad spent Saturday watching Michigan play Indiana.

"I think the fact that the players were able to watch Indiana play Michigan and it went to overtime, that was a heck of a game," said Franklin. "That was a heck of a game as a fan of football to watch. And then once we got all that information, we were able to finalize our game plans. We're probably a little bit more ahead than obviously in a normal week."

Franklin and the Nittany Lions know what type of challenge Saturday's matchup will be. The Wolverines rank among the nation's top defensive units in numerous statistical categories, and they have been consistent throughout the season. Offensively, the Wolverines have been red-hot of late. Michigan also boasts one of the most experienced teams in the country with 18 senior starters.

"They're big and physical on both fronts. I think some of those numbers are a little bit skewed whenever you're playing an overtime game. It skews the numbers a little bit," said Franklin. "But, yeah, they are playing with a lot more confidence right now. They're much more explosive on offense. And they're doing a nice job."

The Nittany Lions will have the advantage of playing in the confines of home. Like Franklin noted on Tuesday, the crowd has been a huge factor in Penn State starting the season 6-0 at home. The Lions need another standout crowd in what should be a terrific Penn State White Out atmosphere on Saturday afternoon.

"It's going to be a tremendous challenge," Franklin said. "There's no doubt about it. But I'm looking forward to being at home, where we've played pretty good, and we're gaining confidence with those things as well. So should be a great college game. It should be a great college atmosphere. Looking forward to it."

The Nittany Lions will practice in shells on Tuesday and Wednesday before the final game week session on Thursday. Saturday's game inside Beaver Stadium will kick at 12 p.m. with a national telecast on ABC.

Press Conference Notes:
- Coach Franklin on what stands out about the senior class.

I think probably one of the things that jumps out to me as much as anything is how our older players, our juniors and seniors, have embraced the younger guys and helped them. A lot of times, it may be at a same position where the younger guy may be playing ahead of them, and that's not always the case. That's not always the case.

"Our guys really have that spirit of doing what's best for Penn State and doing what's best for the program as well as, kind of like we talk about all the time, their spirit of service, serving others. I think that kind of trickles down into our program as well. What our guys are doing in the community, what they do for each other, those go hand in hand. I'm really proud of them."

- Seniors Anthony Zettel and Matt Baney were in attendance at Thursday's press conference and reflected upon their time at Penn State. Additionally, each guy selected his favorite Penn State moment.

"For a particular moment, it was probably the interception, pick six versus Ohio State, how it just changed the game," Zettel said "I think just from an overall team win, when we went to Wisconsin - no. Probably the four overtime against Michigan. That was the best moment."

"I would say my favorite moment was probably the Michigan game in (Coach) O'Brien's last year," Baney said. "It was an incredible season. We had a lot of games that kind of went like that, but watching that comeback, and the sideline never had a doubt that we were going to win that game. Everyone was behind each other 100 percent. That was a special time for me and for the rest of our teammates."

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VIDEO: Michigan Week Player Q&As

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - GoPSUsports.com talks with senior defensive tackle Anthony Zettel, senior linebacker Matt Baney and junior quarterback Christian Hackenberg during Michigan week.

Anthony Zettel

Matt Baney

Christian Hackenberg

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Monday Notebook: Penn State White Out History

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9503592.jpegUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Following a bye, the Nittany Lions return to action this week for the penultimate game on the 2015 schedule.

Penn State will battle No. 14 Michigan on Senior Day in Beaver Stadium. Additionally, the Nittany Lion faithful will take part in one of the program's greatest traditions in the annual Penn State White Out game.

Always a fan favorite, Beaver Stadium will play host to a complete stadium Penn State White Out on Saturday afternoon (12 p.m.). A tradition stretching back to a student section white out in 2004, the Penn State White Outs have created an unrivaled atmosphere inside the 107,000-seat home of Penn State football.

Saturday's game will mark the eighth time the Nittany Lions will host a full stadium Penn State White Out. The history of the event began on Oct. 9, 2004 when the first student white out was held when the Nittany Lions hosted Purdue. Since then, there has been either a student section white out or full stadium white out in each of the past 11 seasons.

The first full stadium Penn State White Out took place on Sept. 8, 2007 when the Lions defeated Notre Dame, 31-10. Saturday will mark the second time Penn State has played Michigan in a full stadium Penn State White Out. The Lions outlasted the Wolverines in a thrilling four-overtime game (43-40) during Michigan's last visit to Beaver Stadium on Oct. 12, 2013.

Penn State White Out History
Oct. 9, 2004 vs. Purdue (student section)

Oct. 8, 2005 vs. Ohio State (student section)

Oct. 14, 2006 vs. Michigan (student section)

Sept. 8, 2007 vs. Notre Dame (full stadium)

Sept. 27, 2008 vs. Illinois (full stadium)

Sept. 26, 2009 vs. Iowa (full stadium)

Oct. 30, 2010 vs. Michigan (student section)

Sept. 10, 2011 vs. Alabama (full stadium)

Oct. 27, 2012 vs. Ohio State  (full stadium)

Oct. 12, 2013 vs. Michigan (full stadium)

Oct. 25, 2014 vs. Ohio State (full stadium)

The Lions will meet the Wolverines at noon on ABC in the final game inside Beaver Stadium for 2015.

Statistical Update on Carl Nassib
With the Nittany Lions idle over the weekend, senior defensive end Carl Nassib's stellar season statistics remained the same as they were last week. However, Nassib will head into the final two weeks of the regular season as the national leader in sacks (15.5) and tackles for loss (19.5).

The Penn State season record holder in sacks, Nassib has averaged 1.55 sacks per game during the first 10 games of the season. He has at least one sack in every game this season. Additionally, Nassib has averaged 2.0 tackles for loss per game.

Nassib is 3.0 sacks clear of Maryland junior defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who is second in the nation in sacks at 12.5 on the season. Duke defensive back Jeremy Cash is second nationally in tackles for loss with 17.5.

Early Look at Michigan
Led by first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh, Michigan (8-2, 5-1 Big Ten) is the 14th-ranked team in the Associated Press Top 25 this week. The Wolverines topped Indiana in dramatic fashion on Saturday afternoon in Bloomington. Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock connected with wide receiver Jehu Chesson on a fourth down touchdown in the final seconds of regulation to send the game into overtime. Michigan outlasted the Hoosiers in double OT by a score of 48-41. Rudock and Chesson were superb in the victory, with Rudock tossing six touchdown passes and finishing with 440 yards through the air. Chesson had 10 catches for 207 yards and four touchdowns.

For the season, Rudock has thrown for 2,220 yards, 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions while completing 64.2 percent of his passes. Junior running back De'Veon Smith is Michigan's leading rusher with 582 yards and five touchdowns. Amara Darboh leads the Michigan receivers with 45 receptions for 567 yards. Michigan's offense is ranked No. 3 in the nation inside the red zone (95.2 percent).

Defensively, Michigan is among the national leaders in several statistical categories. Michigan is No. 2 in the nation in total defense (268.7 yards per game). Additionally, the Wolverines are ranked No. 8 in rushing defense (103.2 yards per game), No. 6 in passing yards allowed (165.5 yards per game) and No. 6 in scoring defense (14.8 points per game).

Penn State and Michigan will meet for the 19th time on Saturday. The Nittany Lions are 7-11 all-time against the Wolverines and 4-5 in games held at Beaver Stadium. Penn State has won the last three against Michigan in Beaver Stadium, including the thrilling 43-40 four-overtime win in 2013.

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Committed to the Process

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11474206.jpegBy Tony Mancuso
(Story Originally Appeared in Beaver Stadium Pictorial for Illinois Game)

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Commitment.

It's a word used a lot in the realm of college athletics.

It's a word that has a different meaning to different people.

And it's one thing to say you are committed to something.

It's another thing to live by your word.

Christian Hackenberg's commitment didn't necessarily begin on Feb. 28, 2012, the day he elected to play for Penn State.

It began on the couch in the living room of the Hackenberg household in Palmyra, Va., Sitting there as a lanky high school kid who had just finished his freshman year, Hackenberg, along with his parents - Erick and Nicole - and eventual high school coach - Micky Sullivan - made a choice.

"As a freshman going into my sophomore year, my family and I were making a decision that would put me in the best position to be successful," Hackenberg said. "I didn't necessarily realize it then. I thought they were sending me over to a military school, but at the same time, I understood that from the big picture, it made sense."

Hackenberg enrolled at Fork Union Military School as a sophomore. He committed to the process, and he hasn't looked back since.

An Under Armour All-American, Hackenberg threw for more than 5,000 yards and 55 touchdowns during his three seasons at Fork Union. He led the Blue Devils to the state title game twice, including a championship in 2010. A five-star prospect by all of the major recruiting services, Hackenberg had his pick of resting places for his college career out of high school.

Leaning on his support system for advice, the insight Hackenberg received from Sullivan, a grandfather figure to the signal-caller, still resonates with him to this day.

"The ultimate factor in his advice to me was that if you get hurt on the first day of practice and can't play again, and are you going to be happy going to school there? That was the last question asked when we were talking about committing," said Hackenberg.

Then, why Penn State?

"I grew up in a blue collar, hard-working family," Hackenberg said. "My parents were always able to give my brothers and I everything we ever needed. We grew up in an awesome house. But competing, hard work, nose to the grindstone. All of those words kind of went in to what my family was when I grew up.

"That type of environment, the blue collar and do whatever it takes to get things done, when you step on campus here, that's what you feel. There are a lot of people on this campus who are that way. It's a great environment for someone like that. The resources are here. The ball is in your court to go out and work to accomplish what you want to do. I love that."

The scholastic standout officially signed a letter of intent to play for Penn State on Feb. 6, 2013, but things were far from smooth between the day he selected Penn State and the day he put ink on the paper to become a Nittany Lion.

While competing at the finals of the Elite 11 in Redondo Beach, Calif., in July of 2012, news began circulating that a major announcement pertaining to the Penn State football program was imminent. Hackenberg and his father landed in Richmond, Va., after the trip on the West Coast, ran to their car and listened to radio as the breaking news of unprecedented NCAA sanctions transpired.

In the days following the announcement on July 23, 2012, Hackenberg and fellow commits from the 2013 recruiting class had an important decision to make.

The families from that recruiting class, including Adam Breneman, Brendan Mahon, Andrew Nelson and Garrett Sickels, traveled to University Park just days after the announcement to meet with then head coach Bill O'Brien to find some answers to what might happen. Understandably, the families did not want their sons to commit and then have the entire team leave under the open transfer rule.

"Coach O'Brien sat there in the team room and handled the questions as good as he could," said Hackenberg. "I think he did an amazing job ensuring that the core group of guys understood his vision of what the team was, and then you let guys like Micheal Mauti and Michael Zordich take over. And they did. We are forever grateful for those guys because they still gave us a shot to come in here, compete and still be successful at a high level. That's something that often gets overlooked."

Simply put, Hackenberg could have chosen to play almost anywhere in the nation following the announcement of NCAA sanctions. And when he verbally committed to Penn State in February of 2012, he didn't sign up for scholarship limitations or a postseason ban.

But none of that mattered to a guy whose loyalty bleeds blue and white.

He wanted to be at Penn State.

Hackenberg arrived on the University Park campus in late June of 2013. Less than two months later, the 18-year-old became the second true freshman quarterback to start a season opener since 1910.

"This has been my goal ever since I was little, to be able to play major college football," Hackenberg said back in 2013 when Coach O'Brien made the decision mid-way through the pre-season.  "To be able to start my first ever college game is a huge attribute to the team around me and the coaching staff."

Hackenberg solidified his place in the starting lineup with a two-minute drill touchdown drive in Beaver Stadium during the team's first scrimmage of pre-season camp. Despite being just weeks removed from high school, the stage never looked too big for him.

"It was one of those things where I wanted it, but I wasn't quite sure what 'it' was," said Hackenberg. "I didn't know what to expect. And we didn't have any guys on the team at quarterback who knew what to expect. We kind of went in to the process blind as a unit."

Hackenberg threw for 278 yards and two touchdowns en route to a 23-17 Penn State win over Syracuse in MetLife Stadium during his debut. He went on to set 10 school freshman game or season records in 2013.

"I think looking back, it was an awesome experience for me," Hackenberg said. "For me, it was kind of like, throw you into the fire a little bit and see how you react. As the game went on, we made some plays and it unfolded in our favor. That experience kind of set my mindset moving forward for the rest of my career, just to keep battling and moving forward and push through things. Looking back at it, it was tough, but it was a positive."

That fiber of pushing through adversity is what distinguishes Hackenberg. Playing quarterback at Penn State is far from easy. Expectations for the position are high, no matter what the situation might be. But No. 14 has done for three years what he knows how to do best - battle.

"Understanding that it's the reality of playing this position at any big school across the country. But being able to deal with some adversity and some things that may not have been expected when I first decided to come here, I think that goes back to the competitor inside me to just keep battling and find a way," said Hackenberg.

The circumstances have been far from normal for any Penn State player who has been on the roster during the past three seasons. There have been ups and downs along the way, but that's what Hackenberg takes pride in. As a leader, he has shouldered plenty, but the bond he has forged with the school and football program is powerful.

"When you hear things along the way that your career is going to fizzle because of the sanctions or you should have gone to Alabama, that stuff just angers me," said Hackenberg. "We all made a decision to come here, and we've been pretty successful under the circumstances and we've stayed relevant when people thought this program was going to die. To me, it's always been moving to the next thing and battle to maintain that level of standard so that this place can be a national championship contender in the future."

Though Hackenberg is a relatively laid back individual, he's a fiery competitor in every aspect of being a student-athlete. And he's a prideful man when it comes to his feelings for Penn State.

"I'm extremely proud of what we have been able to achieve collectively," said Hackenberg. "I'm proud of the guys I've played with every single year I've been here. Every single one of these guys are warriors in my book. I challenge any other program in the country to do what we did with the group of people that we had."

A story about the numbers Hackenberg has tallied or the school records he has set could fill a newspaper, and deservedly so. When his time is up in Happy Valley, the Virginia native will go down as one of the program's all-time greats.

Hackenberg's first three seasons have been marked by big plays, thrilling wins and the program's first bowl win after the sanctions were lifted - a moment Hackenberg calls his most satisfying to date.

But there is far more beneath the surface to what makes No. 14 special.

There is a reason why he has the ultimate respect of any player in the locker room. There is a reason why that no matter how many times he's been knocked down he always gets back up stronger.

"No ego is too big. No number means anything," Hackenberg said. "You have to go out and prove yourself each and every week and each and every day in practice. That's been my approach; prepare like a pro, practice like a pro and on Saturdays, just play hard."

Adversity does not outlast individuals with a mindset and work ethic like Christian Hackenberg.

And no one can ever question his commitment to the process in filling a position he loves at a place he truly cherishes.

"You just want to keep pushing and getting better," said Hackenberg. "You just want to keep trying to out-play the expectations. You want to keep trying to out-play the limitations that people put on us. That's what I live for. I want to keep out-dueling those expectations."

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

VIDEO: James Franklin Practice Update - Bye Week

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin addressed the media following Wednesday's practice session at the Lasch Football Complex.

The Nittany Lions practiced on Tuesday and Wednesday of the bye week. The Lions return to action on Nov. 21 against Michigan. Take a look at an update from Coach Franklin on the team's week.

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