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Northwestern Week Q&A - Brent Pry

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11458525.jpegUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions travel to Northwestern on Saturday for a noon kick (ESPNU) at Ryan Field.

Leading up to the contest against the Wildcats, assistant head coach, co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Brent Pry talked with the media on Thursday. Take a look at a Q&A with Coach Pry.

Q: Can you talk in general about your group, and how would you evaluate them at this point in the season?
Pry: "A combination of Troy (Reeder), Jason (Cabinda) and Brandon (Bell) is a good enough combination (to be very successful). They can all play at a high level. Jason has adjusted to the 'Mike' position pretty well. There are still some things that creep up here and there as part of the learning curve. Troy is a guy that is a redshirt freshman. He still hasn't played near the ball that Jason and Brandon have played. He's still growing into the role a little bit. He's gaining valuable game experience. Brandon has been nicked up with injuries and missed a game or two. He's just getting back healthy. He's experienced and very smart. He's been very valuable and the plays he's made for us. I think we've got some ground to make up with our second group in bringing those guys along - (Jake) Cooper and (Manny) Bowen and the combination of (Gary) Wooten and (Ben) Kline. It's very hard to take Cabinda out of the game right now. He's very valuable running the show. We've got some ground to make up with the twos, but I feel good about that first group."

Q: At this point of the season, what has Nyeem (Wartman's) role been with the unit?

Pry: "I'm very proud of how Nyeem has handled this situation. He's always got a smile on his face. He's got an incredibly positive attitude. He's always around. He's in meetings. He's in position meetings. He's in team meetings. He's very much a part of our group. He's still a leader and an inspiration to not just the linebackers but everybody on the team. He's doing tremendous with his rehab. Everything is positive there. He's working like crazy in the weight room. I joke with him that he will finally bench 300 (pounds) coming out of this thing. He's really putting the time in there. I'm very proud and pleased. He's certainly still very much a big part of our football team."

Q: What are a couple things you are looking at with Jason in terms of areas to work on as a young player still growing into the "Mike" position?

Pry: "When you are running the show and the quarterback of the defense, you can't be locked in on one side of the formation or the other, like you could at "Will" or "Sam". He's got to see the whole picture all the time. I think one of the things are the motions, shifts and adjustments that a guy like Vitale brings. There are alignment things that have to happen when he's moving around that affects the "Mike" and "Will". There are some things in coverage that people are doing that are new to him playing in the middle of the formation. Jason is a guy that has to continue to play with good pad level and knee bend, and play healthy. He's a guy that when he's hurt, he struggles in space a little bit. And he knows that. He's gotta play with his pads rolled over, good footwork and good knee bend and the fundamentals he prides himself in. From day one, he's been a guy who has really be coachable. He's worked at his craft from a physical standpoint. He's just a guy that knows he is a little bit raw and little bit rough on his body mechanics, and he's got to play in the cylinder with good pad level, no false footwork and good reaction, and he really works at that. When you move to "Mike" linebacker, there is so much more on your plate from a mental standpoint. Sometimes the personal things, the techniques that are required at the position or required for his skillset to be successful sometimes, he loses sight of those. He's gotta always play with that good pad level that makes him a good player...It's a challenging spot, and I'm very proud of the way Jason has stepped up this fall."

Q: Why do running quarterbacks give a defense trouble and how far do you think your defense has come along in that respect?
Pry: "I think running quarterbacks give everybody trouble across the country. I think it's something, in my mind, you have to prepare for those guys like it's an option team. You have to devote that kind of time and that kind of study and be prepared as coaches and players to defend it. We've certainly emphasized that the last couple weeks to be better there. I think it's something that gives a lot of people fits. And it's something we've opened our eyes to. We've got to do a better job defending it. We've certainly prepared a little harder for the quarterback runs."

Q: How difficult is to prepare for a dual-threat quarterback like Clayton Thorson (Northwestern)?

Pry: "I think he's a real threat at the quarterback position. It's like having an extra player out there when you have a triggerman that can run the football, as well. This guy is a big, durable guy. He's a strong runner. He's a physical presence. I think they come in all shapes and sizes. Trace McSorley is built completely different, but poses the same threat. To have that knack and that vision, that's what Thorson has. He's got a good running style. I think he's somebody we certainly respect, not just how he throws the ball but how he runs it. He's had some tremendous runs on plays where he was just scrambling out of the pocket...I'd be surprised if he wasn't a big part of their gameplan."

Q: What are your thoughts on Northwestern's "superback" Dan Vitale, and what type of challenge does he present for your group?
Pry: "We have to always know where Vitale is. He's a guy who might line up in a slot. He can line up on the line as a tight end. He can line up off the ball in the backfield as a fullback or h-back. He moves around a lot. There is a lot of motion and shifting with him. He's a very good blocker. He's their leading receiver. They even get him the ball on some shovel passes. He's definitely a weapon. He's a mature guy that's played a lot of football. He's a guy who is definitely No. 1 on our radar as far as knowing where he is and knowing what he is up to. We have tremendous respect for him."

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VIDEO: James Franklin Practice Update - Northwestern 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 travel to Northwestern for a 12 p.m. (ESPNU) kick inside Ryan Field. Take a look at the practice update from Northwestern week.

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VIDEO: Northwestern Week Player Q&As

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - GoPSUsports.com talks with senior offensive lineman Angelo Mangiro and junior safety Malik Golden during Northwestern week.

Angelo Mangiro

Malik Golden

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2015 Tuesday Press Conference Roundup - Northwestern Week

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11454976.jpegVIDEO: Northwestern Week Player Q&As | Transcripts - James Franklin | Players

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin addressed the media on Tuesday afternoon to preview Penn State's road trip to Northwestern.

The Nittany Lions (7-2, 4-1) will meet the Wildcats (6-2, 2-2) on Saturday at 12 p.m. (ESPNU) inside Ryan Field. Franklin reviewed Penn State's 39-0 home victory over Illinois and looked ahead to the penultimate road game of 2015.

Penn State has won seven of its last eight games. A number of factors in all three phases of the game have played a big role in the string of success, but discipline is something Coach Franklin noted at length on Tuesday. The Lions have made very few mistakes during the last eight weeks, and it's something Coach Franklin circled in his discussion with the media. The Nittany Lions are No. 9 in the nation in fewest penalty yards per game (38.0 ypg) and No. 17 nationally in turnover margin (plue-0.89).

"You know, (those are) two areas that we take a lot of pride in we think are really important on the field as well as off, the discipline aspect of your program. I think that's been a real secret to our success, not beating ourselves with turnovers and penalties, and we need to continue to do those things," said Franklin.

Another ingredient to Penn State's success has been the presence of explosive plays on offense. The Nittany Lions have accounted for 45 plays of 20 or more yards this season, including 29 passes. Penn State is No. 8 in the nation in plays of 30 or more yards (29). In the last two weeks, the Lions have tallied 17 explosive plays.

On the defensive side of the ball, Coach Franklin highlighted the unit's pursuit to the ball and tackling following the shutout on Saturday. Penn State held Illinois to one play of 20 or more yards, largely because of the crisp tackling and relentless pursuit of all three individual units.

"We eliminated big plays. We've been disruptive; nine tackles for loss, four sacks," said Franklin. "We were really good; we were 71 percent on 3rd down. So some great things there."

As he does each week, Franklin announced the team's internal players of the week for offense, defense and special teams. The staff selected two players on special teams for their efforts on return plays and kick coverage. Koa Farmer and Nick Scott are two guys who have bought in to consistent production on special teams and enjoy every rep they take.

"If you want to watch something and study something, maybe go back and watch the game again, watch those two guys on kickoff coverage, not just the tackles but even the ones that are kicked out of the end zone," said Franklin. "They're racing down the field to see who can be the first one to that end zone and really having fun with their roles."

Moving to the Northwestern game, the Wildcats enter the weekend coming off of a victory at Nebraska and a bye week. Northwestern has been solid on defense throughout the season and rank among the Big Ten's best in rushing offense (No. 3 - 186.1 ypg). Coach Franklin said the constant throughout the game film of the Wildcats is the consistency from head coach Pat Fitzgerald's squad.

"(This is a) very, very well-coached, sound team," said Franklin. "Very rarely do you watch a tape and are they out of position or not lined up correctly, so been impressed watching them on tape."

Penn State and Northwestern have been sound defensively against big plays this year. Both teams are tied for 12th in nation in fewest explosive plays of 30 or more yards allowed.

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. on ESPNU.

Press Conference Notes:
- Coach Franklin announced that the internal players of the week for the Illinois game were as follows:
Offense - Christian Hackenberg
Defense - Troy Reeder
Special Teams - Koa Farmer and Nick Scott

- Wide receiver Geno Lewis has been hot of late, catching a pair of touchdown passes during the last two games. Lewis is taking full advantage of his opportunities to make a big play when the Nittany Lions need one.

"I'm really proud of Geno, no different than I just mentioned Tyler. I'm really proud of Geno because he hasn't had as many opportunities this year as he's had in the past, and to be honest with you, I think he's handled it really, really well."

- Coach Franklin said on Tuesday that the team would again practice in a modified fashion this week. With it being the 10th-straight game week, Franklin wants to see fresh legs on the field come Saturday afternoon. Instead of full pads on Tuesday, the Lions will practice in helmets and shoulder pads.

"We'll cut back a little bit more this week again, and find a way to go into this game physically prepared and mentally prepared, as well. And I think that's important, that at this point of the season that we look at doing some of those things."

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Monday Notebook: Lion Pass Defense Shines in Illinois Win

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion secondary was tested from start to finish in Saturday's game against Illinois.

And snap after snap, the defensive backs rose to the challenge in a masterful performance by holding the Illini passing attack to 130 yards on 43 attempts. The longest passing play from scrimmage was just 15 yards for Illinois in a 39-0 victory for the Nittany Lions.

"I really thought we did a great job disguising coverages and looks," said head coach James Franklin. "Obviously, our secondary is complemented by our defensive line and how they put pressure on the quarterback. But all three units are really playing well together, and the secondary did a really nice job."

Through nine games, the Nittany Lions are No. 4 in the nation in passing yards allowed per game. Penn State has yielded just 157.9 yards per contest. That mark is second in the Big Ten behind No. 1 Ohio State.

"The mindset never changes," said safety Marcus Allen. "We take things one day at a time. We have taken things one day at a time and one game at a time. This week, we accomplished our goal. Now, we will move on to next week looking to do the same thing."

The Lions have not allowed more than 251 passing yards in a game. Penn State has held five of its nine opponents to 155 or fewer yards through the air this season.

"They covered guys all over the field," said linebacker Jason Cabinda. "And I think (Saturday) we proved how good our secondary can be, as well."

The Penn State defense has allowed just six passing touchdowns this season, which is tied for the seventh fewest in the nation.

The Lions head back on the road this week for a noon (ET) kick at Northwestern.

Hackenberg a Model of Consistency During Last Six
Junior quarterback Christian Hackenberg has put together a string of superb outings for the Nittany Lion offense. Through the past six games, the Lions have gone 5-1 overall and 3-1 in Big Ten play. The veteran signal-caller is a big piece to Penn State's success.

During the six-game span, Hackenberg has completed 57 percent of his passes while throwing for 235.8 yards per game. Additionally, he has accounted for 15 total touchdowns (12 passing, 2 rushing, 1 receiving) and does not have an interception. As a team, the Nittany Lions are No. 7 in the nation and tied for No. 1 in the Big Ten in fewest interceptions this season (2). The Lions are No. 17 in turnover margin at plus-0.89.

White-Hot Red Zone Offense Continues
Coinciding with Hackenberg's hot play, the Nittany Lions have been outstanding inside the Red Zone during the past six weeks. Penn State has converted 23 of its last 24 trips inside the 20 into points. For the season, the Lions own a 91 percent conversion rate (31-for-34). The Nittany Lions are ranked 14th nationally and third in the Big Ten in red zone offense through nine games this season.

Nassib's Closing in on Sack Record
Senior Carl Nassib is now on the brink of Penn State history after he extended his streak of games with at least one sack to nine on Saturday afternoon. Nassib tallied a sack for a loss of nine yards in Penn State's win against Illinois.

Through nine games, he is leading the nation in both sacks and tackles for loss. Nassib is No. 1 in sacks with 1.6 per game, No. 1 in tackles for loss with 2.1 per game. He is also No. 3 in fumbles forced with 0.6 per game. As a collective unit, the Nittany Lions are No. 1 in the nation with 3.9 sacks per game and No. 4 nationally in tackles for loss with 9.2 per game.

With 14.5 sacks this season, Nassib is now just 0.5 sacks from the Penn State season sack record set by Michael Haynes (2002) and Larry Kubin (1979).

Early Look at Northwestern
Led by head coach Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern (6-2, 2-2 Big Ten) returns to action following a bye week. The Wildcats opened the season 5-0 before dropping two-straight to Michigan (38-0) and Iowa (40-10). Northwestern has two wins in Big Ten play, including a 27-0 triumph over Minnesota and a 30-28 victory at Nebraska in the team's last game. A non-conference victory over then-No. 21 Stanford (16-6) highlights the season for the Wildcats, who were in the Associated Press Top 25 for five-straight weeks earlier this season.

Quarterback Clayton Thorson headlines the Northwestern offensive attack. The redshirt freshman has thrown for 1,119 yards with six touchdowns and five interceptions. Thorson is also effective with his feet, rushing for 297 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. Sophomore running back Justin Jackson is the team's leading rusher with 731 yards.

Defensively, Northwestern is among the nation's best at defending the pass. The Wildcats are ranked No. 7 in the nation in fewest passing yards allowed (164.8 ypg). Northwestern is No. 17 in total defense, allowing just 310.3 yards per game. The Wildcats are one of just two teams in the nation to allow just one play of 40 or more yards this season.

Penn State and Northwestern will meet for the 18th time on Saturday. The Nittany Lions are 13-4 all-time against the Wildcats and 6-2 in games played at Ryan Field.

Illinois Extended Game Highlight
Watch highlights from Saturday's 39-0 victory over Illinois.

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Nittany Lions Play with Confidence in Complete Effort Against Illinois

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11449988.jpegUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State started fast and finished strong in the team's most complete performance of 2015 during Saturday's dominant 39-0 victory over Illinois in Beaver Stadium.

For eight weeks, the Nittany Lions (7-2, 4-1) showed flashes of excellent execution on both sides of the ball. On Saturday, the entire package clicked with a consistent effort from the offense and a stifling performance from the defense in the team's first shutout in Big Ten play since 2009.

"I thought we played well in all three phases," said head coach James Franklin. "I thought we took advantage of some opportunities early in the game. I thought our defense had a really good plan against their attack. We kept them one-dimensional. Overall, I thought we did some very good things."

The defensive effort was masterful on a day when Illinois did not advance further than Penn State's 40. The Illini managed just 167 yards of total offense on 70 plays (2.4 yards per play), converted 12 total first downs and punted 12 times. The Nittany Lions forced five three-and-outs and notched four sacks.

The final numbers illustrate Penn State's effectiveness on defense, but it doesn't do the performance justice. Illinois never threatened, largely because of the Lions' consistency from start to finish.

"That's a tribute to everybody who rotates through the game," linebacker Troy Reeder said. "We played a lot of guys today. And there was no let down, no matter who was in the game. That's a tribute to everybody and their preparation in a team win."

The Nittany Lions never allowed the Illini to find any rhythm in their running game. Illinois had 37 rushing yards on 27 attempts. Therefore, Illini quarterback Wes Lunt was the focal point of the Nittany Lion defense. Lunt completed 16-of-36 passes for 129 yards. Illinois did not have a passing play of more than 15 yards. Penn State had as many as six defensive backs on the field in a strong, consistent effort from the secondary until the clocked ticked to zero.

"I think everyone talks about how good our d-line is, and they made some really big plays today, but they passed almost the entire game and that secondary proved to be huge," said linebacker Jason Cabinda. "They covered guys all over the field. And I think today we proved how good our secondary can be, as well."

A big piece to Saturday's game proved to be Penn State's fast start on offense. The Nittany Lions covered 80 yards in eight plays during their second drive of the game before Christian Hackenberg found Chris Godwin for a 5-yard touchdown and a 6-0 lead.

The Penn State defense also played a hand in the fast start. On the ensuing Illini possession, Reeder picked off Lunt for his first career interception and returned the pick 44 yards to Illinois 6. One play later, Hackenberg found Lewis for a touchdown play to give Penn State a 12-0 cushion after one quarter.

Hackenberg, who finished 21-for-29 for 266 yards and two touchdowns, started the game 10-of-11 in the first two quarters. The Nittany Lions never looked back from there.

"I thought it was really good for our team to get some points on the board, and it took the pressure off our defense," said Franklin. "We were able to play fast (from there)."

"The fast start was huge for us," Hackenberg said. "To be able to rip off a couple things early was big for the confidence. We executed as a team."

Leading 15-0 at the break, the Nittany Lions wasted little time adding to their lead in the third quarter. Koa Farmer returned the opening kick of the second half 57 yards to the Illinois 43. Hackenberg and DaeSean Hamilton combined for a pair of key third down conversions to set up the Lions with a first down at the Illinois 14.

One play later, Nittany Lion running back and special teams ace Nick Scoot took a pitch from Hackenberg and raced to his right towards edge of the field. Hackenberg curled to Scott's left on the backside of the play and found wide-open space at the Illinois 10. Scott stopped mid-stride and delivered a perfectly thrown ball to Hackenberg, who scampered into the north end zone for his first career receiving touchdown.

"I didn't know if he was going to throw it or not, but the safety kept running (away from me towards the ball)," said Hackenberg. "I knew he was going to throw it at that point. He put it up. And he put it right on me. I'm sitting there watching the ball and saying, 'just don't drop it, just don't drop it.' I didn't think that my stomach would drop like that, but it did (laughter). But everything worked out."

Scott is now 2-for-2 throwing the ball in 2015. He connected with Chris Godwin on a 32-yard trick play against San Diego State before his 14-yard touchdown toss against the Illini. Scott had no doubt in his mind that the play was going to work on Saturday.

"It worked because we practiced a couple weeks straight. I put it on a line to Hack because I saw the safety, and I was trying not to get him killed," Scott said. "But Hack is a tough guy, so he probably would have got in anyways."

The Lions added a second field goal from Tyler Davis, who went 2-for-2 on Saturday, and a pair of highlight-reel rushing touchdowns. The first came in the form of a Saquon Barkley leap over an Illinois defender. The second score featured a 20-yard jet from Mark Allen, who scored for the first time in his Nittany Lion career.

Collectively, the Nittany Lions were dominant, and they will take a great deal of momentum in to Saturday's noon kick at Northwestern (ESPNU).

"Wrapping it all up, I thought we played great," Hackenberg said. "We complemented each other well. We were able to put a lot of points on the board. Obviously, there are some things we need to go back and look at to clean up, but ultimately, we are pretty pleased with where we are at right now."

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

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin talks with GoPSUsports.com following Penn State's dominant 39-0 victory over Illinois on Saturday.

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VIDEO: Postgame Player Interviews - Illinois

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head inside the winning locker room to hear from several Nittany Lions, including Saquon Barkley, Jason Cabinda, Mike Gesicki, Christian Hackenberg, Troy Reeder, Nick Scott and Anthony Zettel following Penn State's dominant 39-0 victory over Illinois.

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2015 Gameday Live - Penn State vs. Illinois

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Welcome to live, interactive coverage of the 2015 Penn State football season. The Nittany Lions will meet Illinois inside Beaver Stadium. Follow along for live updates from gameday.

Live Blog 2015 Gameday Live - Penn State vs. Illinois

2015 Photo Blog - Penn State vs. Illinois

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