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Monday Notebook: Nassib's Impact Beyond Sacks

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11397200.jpegUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Defensive end Carl Nassib's motor never stops.

He's the type of player every coach dreams of mentoring. When Nassib practices, it's like every rep is being contested in the Super Bowl. That mindset translates into the games, and he refuses to be blocked by anyone.

Simply put, the 6-foot-7, 272-pound defensive end has been lights out in 2015. The nation's leader in sacks, Nassib has 10.0 sacks and 12.0 tackles for loss in Penn State's first six games.

"I think that work ethic and that mentality and that drive, along with some of the physical skills and traits that he has, has created a really nice - you know, really nice complement of skills that's allowed him to be successful, so I don't know if there has been an Ah-ha moment, but I know when we created last year's tape, he didn't have as many 'splash' plays as he has had this year, but he played at probably a higher level than we realized," said head coach James Franklin.

An area being a bit overlooked in Nassib's stellar first half of the season is his ability to force fumbles. The former walk-on is leading the nation with five forced fumbles in six games. Nassib has an uncanny ability to jar the ball free when he has his hands on a quarterback or ball carrier. He is directly responsible for more than 40 percent of Penn State's forced turnovers this season.

Nassib's five forced fumbles are the most by a Penn State player since defensive end Maurice Evans had five in 2007. Michael Haynes owns the record with seven forced fumbles in 2002.


Meeting the No. 1 Team
Saturday will mark the 16th time in Penn State football's history that the Nittany Lions will collide with the No. 1 team in the nation. It will also be the first time Penn State has played the No. 1 team since traveling to Alabama in 2010. Of the 16 meetings, this will be the fourth time the Lions have played against Ohio State when it was ranked No. 1. The team's history stretches back to a 1937 meeting at Pittsburgh. Penn State has four wins against the No. 1 team in the nation, including the 1983 Sugar Bowl (Georgia) and the 1987 Fiesta Bowl (Miami). The most recent win over a No. 1 team came in 1990 when the Lions knocked off Notre Dame, 24-21 in Beaver Stadium.

Five-Game Winning Streak
The Nittany Lions improved to 5-0 inside Beaver Stadium with the victory over Indiana, marking the first time since the 2008 season with five-straight wins to open the home slate. It is only the fourth time since 2000 that the Nittany Lions won five-straight at home. The Lions went 7-0 at home in 2008 en route to winning the Big Ten and playing in the Rose Bowl.

Additionally, Penn State has now won five consecutive games for the 11th season since joining the Big Ten Conference in 1993. The Lions have tallied six-straight wins during six different seasons during that span, with the most recent coming in 2011.

Early Look at Ohio State
The defending national champion Ohio State Buckeyes (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) remain unbeaten in 2015 following a 49-28 victory over Maryland on Saturday. The top rated offense in the conference enters the week averaging 36.8 points and 460.0 yards per contest. The Buckeyes are 2-0 in conference play following a road victory at Indiana (34-27) and the triumph over Maryland. Ohio State also knocked off Virginia Tech (42-24), Hawaii (38-0), Northern Illinois (20-13) and Western Michigan (38-12).

Running back Ezekiel Elliott enters the game as the nation's fourth-highest rusher with 835 yards through six games. Elliott has scored 10 touchdowns in 2015. Senior Cardale Jones and sophomore J.T Barrett have split time at quarterback, with Jones starting each of Ohio State's six games. Jones has thrown for 1,158 yards and seven touchdowns. Michael Thomas is Ohio State's leading receiver with 27 receptions for 399 yards and four touchdowns.

Defensively, the Buckeyes have limited their opponents to 17.3 points and 300.2 yards per contest. Linebackers Raekwon McMillan and Joshua Perry lead the team in tackling with 62 and 52 stops, respectively.

Extended Game Highlight
Watch extended game highlights from the victory over Indiana on Saturday.

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Hackenberg Steers Offense with Arm and Legs Against Indiana

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11394880.jpegUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Christian Hackenberg's decorated Penn State career is filled with standout performances.

Now just the second player in program history to become a 7,000-yard passer, Hackenberg has thrown 39 touchdowns, which puts him in a tie with former All-American Kerry Collins for sixth place in Penn State history.

But no day in his career of 31 starts under center did Hackenberg exhibit the ability to be a dual-threat player like he did on Saturday in Penn State's 29-7 romp of Indiana.

He tossed a pair of touchdowns, a 39-yarder to Brandon Polk and a 39-yarder DaeSean Hamilton, finishing 21-for-39 with 262 yards and two touchdowns in his 17th 200-yard passing effort.

But Saturday was a complete performance from Penn State's leader of the huddle.

"I thought he played really well, as a passer and as a runner and the way he managed the game," said head coach James Franklin. "He did some great things, and there were a lot of positives for the offense today."

He finished with a career-high 21 rushing yards and visited the end zone twice with his feet, marking the first time a Penn State quarterback tallied two rushing scores since Matt McGloin in 2012. Hackenberg again managed the game to near perfection, took what the defense gave him and made the plays necessary to win, whether it was with his arm or his feet.

I think it's just one of those things you get a feel for and today I was able to get a feel for it," Hackenberg said. "In terms of how they were rushing, the lanes that were opening and being able to take advantage of it."

An underrated athlete, Hackenberg can move very well with the ball in his hands. Indiana's zone coverages opened lanes for running, and he took advantage. It's something his teammates see frequently at practice, and they enjoy watching No. 14 on the move.

"I love watching him run," said Hamilton. "A guy getting his knees up and things like that, plus he has a little bit of juice in him so he's fast too. When those zone plays aren't going so well or when the pocket starts to break down and he takes off, it's really a nice thing to see."

No play was more telling of Hackenberg's athleticism than his plunge into the end zone when the Lions led 19-7 early in the fourth quarter. On second and goal from the Indiana 5, Hackenberg dropped back to pass. As he worked through the play's progressions, everyone was covered. A running window opened and he took off for the goal. The play ended with Hackenberg leaping parallel to the ground on his way into the end zone for the second time.

"It was fun. I don't get to do that too often," joked Hackenberg. "They jumped our read and what we were looking at through the air. A lane opened up, hit it, made a move and go make a play."

The fans in the north end of the stadium roared as Hackenberg stood up in the end zone to celebrate with his teammates. It was a telling play on a day where the Nittany Lions played with great enthusiasm on both sides of the ball and looked to be on a mission to again go 1-0 for the fifth-straight week.

"I think that's one of the things we've done as a team, we've played with our emotions on our sleeves for the most part, each week so far this year," Hackenberg said. "I think you obviously need to come back and get ready for the next challenge and I think we were able to do that. We had our highs, we enjoyed them and then we were kind of back to even keel making sure we were doing what we needed to do to move the football on the next drive."

The Lions fed off of the energy provided from the nearly 100,000 fans in Beaver Stadium on Saturday. The 96th Homecoming game was played before a boisterous crowd, and it's something the team appreciates every single week and never takes for granted.

"We had a great atmosphere. The fans played a huge part in the game at key times, and we were able to go out and get a big team win," said Hackenberg. We capitalized on momentum shifts that the defense created. Offensively, we created our own momentum at times, as well.

Riding a five-game winning streak, attention now shifts towards a trip to No. 1 Ohio State. The Nittany Lions will collide with the Buckeyes under the lights on Saturday.

"It's a great challenge. Ohio State is obviously on a role as the No. 1 team in the country," Hackenberg said. "I know that we are going to go out and prepare as hard as we can, and we are going to go out and try to execute."

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

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin talks with GoPSUsports.com following Penn State's 29-7 victory over Indiana on Homecoming.

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VIDEO: Postgame Player Interviews - Indiana

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head into the winning locker room to hear from several Nittany Lions, including Kyle Carter, Christian Hackenberg, DaeSean Hamilton, Austin Johnson, Jordan Lucas and Andrew Nelson following the 29-7 victory over Indiana.

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2015 Gameday Live - Penn State vs. Indiana

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

Live Blog 2015 Gameday Live - Penn State vs. Indiana

2015 Photo Blog - Penn State vs. Indiana

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


2015 Gameday - Nittany Lions Host Indiana on Homecoming

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

Coach Franklin Wednesday | Coach Rahne Q&A | Notebook | Looking Back: OSU 2005

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Riding a four-game winning streak, Penn State will host Indiana on Saturday in the 96th Homecoming game.

11386314.jpegFinishing a string five consecutive home games, the Nittany Lions (4-1, 1-0) and Hoosiers (1-3) will square off in a 12 p.m. kick in Beaver Stadium. The game will air live on ESPN.

"We are excited to close out five straight weeks at home with Homecoming," said Franklin. "We really appreciate the support of the students and especially all of the alums who will be coming back to Happy Valley this weekend from all over the country."

Behind a career day from linebacker Jason Cabinda, the Nittany Lion defense again shined in a 20-14 win over Army last week. The true sophomore linebacker made a career-high 14 tackles, recorded the first two sacks of his career and forced a fumble. Senior defensive end Carl Nassib, who remains among the nation's leaders in sacks and tackles for loss, tallied a sack for the fifth-straight game to open the season.

Offensively, redshirt freshman Nick Scott and sophomore Mike Gesicki each visited the end zone for the first time in the Blue and White. Gesicki's 33-yard catch and run in the third quarter capped off a three-play 91-yard drive, which included a 49-yard toss from quarterback Christian Hackenberg to wide receiver Chris Godwin.

Indiana enters Saturday's game after playing top-ranked Ohio State to the wire in Bloomington last week. The Hoosiers went toe-to-toe with the Buckeyes for 60 minutes, falling just shy in a 34-27 Ohio State victory. Indiana tallied more than 400 yards of total offense against Ohio State, including 176 on the ground. The Hoosiers enter the game with a 4-1 overall record following victories over Southern Illinois (48-47), Florida International (36-22), Western Kentucky (38-35) and Wake Forest (31-24) to open the season.

Penn State and Indiana will meet for the 19th time on Saturday, with all of the meetings coming since the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten Conference in 1993. Penn State is 17-1 all-time against the Hoosiers and 8-0 in games played at Beaver Stadium.

The Alumni Blue Band will be featured as they join the Blue Band performance at halftime of Saturday's Homecoming game. The Homecoming court will parade onto the field and the 2015-16 King and Queen will be announced during halftime. The annual Homecoming Parade will be held on campus and downtown State College on Friday evening.

Following the Indiana game, Penn State will head on the road for two straight games, traveling to Ohio State on Oct. 17 and M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore to face Maryland on Oct. 24. The Lions return home to Beaver Stadium on Oct. 31 for a matchup against Illinois.

Welcome to the gameday preview for week six - Penn State vs. Indiana.

Pregame Reading:
What to Watch For - Penn State
11386298.jpeg1. Being on the positive side of turnover margin is always a recipe for success. Arguably, it's been Penn State's biggest key during a 4-1 start to the season. The math is simple. When you force more turnovers than you commit, the offense has more opportunities to score. It's one of few statistics on the season report that illustrates the value in playing complementary football. Penn State is ranked No. 8 in the nation with a plus-1.60 turnover margin. Additionally, the Nittany Lions have scored 34 points off of turnovers this season, while opponents have scored 14.

"I think that's been critical to our success," said Franklin. "We talked a few weeks ago about playing a style of play that was going to allow us to be successful, and we've done that. I think the turnovers have been huge, probably, in my opinion, I don't think it's gotten enough attention as it should, especially the conditions of the games that we have played in."

2. The Penn State linebacker corps has been a bit under the radar during the first five games of the season. The unit features the team's top two tacklers in Jason Cabinda (37) and Troy Reeder (27), and it's a group that has consistently improved with each passing week. Despite absences from Nyeem Wartman-White and Brandon Bell, the Lions have executed the "next man up" mantra at a high level. Von Walker, Manny Bowen and Jake Cooper have all played a role in Penn State's success on defense. The Nittany Lions enter the week ranked in the top 18 in total defense and scoring defense.

3. Coach Franklin pointed to the passing game as an area to watch for during the one-on-one preview with GoPSUsports.com. During the past two games, the Nittany Lions have tallied eight passing plays of 20 or more yards, including a season-long 49-yard connection between Christian Hackenberg and Chris Godwin last week. Franklin mentioned the emphasis on contested catches when the ball is thrown downfield. Godwin has illustrated that he has the tools to be a threat every time the ball is delivered down the field. Penn State will be looking for consistency across the board in its passing game. And that begins with good protection up front.

What to Watch For - Indiana
1. Indiana senior quarterback Nate Sudfeld is one of the Big Ten's most talented signal-callers. A starter in three seasons, Sudfeld is among the conference's top statistical passers in 2015. He is first in yards per attempt, second in passing yards, passing yards per game and total offense. Despite missing the latter stages of Indiana's narrow setback to Ohio State, Sudfeld is 87-of-147 for 1,277 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception this season. Ricky Jones is Indiana's leading receiver with 21 catches for 446 yards and three touchdowns.

2. Junior running back Jordan Howard has been impressive for the Hoosiers when he has been on the field. The junior, who played at UAB last season, has 709 yards on 125 carries and has scored four touchdowns. Howards is the nation's active leader in rushing since the start of 2013 with 3,177 yards. He has 10 games with 150 yards or more.

3. Junior middle linebacker T.J. Simmons is the leader of Indiana's 3-4 defense. A starter in 28 of Indiana's last 29 games, Simmons is currently tied for the team lead with 34 tackles. He has made 23 solo stops in 2015, as well. Additionally, Indiana's D-Line has been a key to Indiana's defensive success. The unit has accounted for eight of the team's 12 sacks. Defensive end Nick Mangieri leads the team with 5.0 sacks.

The Final Word:
Saturday will be a reunion for the thousands of alums who will visit Happy Valley for the Homecoming game. Penn State's Homecoming history stretches back to 1920 when the Nittany Lions defeated Dartmouth by a score of 14-7. Since 1920, Penn State has hosted a Homecoming game each season, with Saturday marking the 96th consecutive year with a Homecoming game. The Nittany Lions are 68-22-5 in Homecoming games. Penn State has won eight out of the last 10 on Homecoming.

Penn State will be seeking a 5-0 start at home for only the fourth time since 2000. Additionally, Penn State's defense will be looking to continue a streak of holding opponents to 300 total yards or less. The Lions have limited their opponents to 300 or fewer yards in eight consecutive home games. ESPN's live coverage of the Indiana game begins at 12 p.m. with kickoff slated for 12:01 p.m. Beth Mowins (Play-by-Play) and Anthony Becht (Analyst) and Paul Carcaterra (Sideline) will call the game.

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Ten Years Later: Remembering an Epic Night in Beaver Stadium

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Tamba Hali sack - OSU 05.jpgUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Ten years have passed since an epic night in Penn State lore.

Few environments will ever compare to the one inside Beaver Stadium on Oct. 8, 2005 when the unbeaten and 16th-ranked Nittany Lions battled the sixth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes in a primetime tilt of Big Ten heavyweights.

Having knocked off Northwestern in dramatic fashion two weeks prior, the Nittany Lions entered the Ohio State game on the heels of a 44-14 rout of Minnesota. The Buckeyes came in with one blemish on their record following a narrow 25-22 setback to eventual national champion Texas.

ESPN College Gameday set the stage outside of Beaver Stadium on what proved to be a special Saturday in Happy Valley.

Chilly, damp conditions under the lights proved to be the perfect setting for a slugfest between two of the conference's best defenses.

The Buckeyes got on the board first with a 30-yard field goal from Josh Huston in the first frame, but the Nittany Lions answered with a big second quarter. Freshman Derrick Williams capped off a nine-play, 74-yard drive with a 13-yard touchdown run on an option play with quarterback Michael Robinson to put the Nittany Lions on top by a score of 7-3.

With capacity crowd of 109,839 in a frenzy, defensive linemen Matthew Rice and Tamba Hali sacked Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith on the first play of the ensuing Buckeye possession. Two plays later, safety Calvin Lowry stepped in front of a Smith pass for an interception before racing to the Ohio State 2.

Robinson then plunged into the end zone to give the Nittany Lions a 14-3 lead. Ohio State answered on the next possession with an 81-yard drive, setting the score at 14-10 heading into the break.

Penn State added a 41-yard field goal from Kevin Kelly on the first drive of the second half to make it 17-10, Nittany Lions.

From there, the tenacious Blue and White defense took over with a spirited performance.

The Buckeyes managed 105 yards in the second half, including just 54 yards and two first downs in the final quarter of play.

It was only fitting on a night dominated by the Nittany Lion defense that the clinching moment came in the form of a sack. With Ohio State driving in the final two minutes of action at the Penn State 45, Hali raced into the backfield, sacked Smith, forced a fumble, and Scott Paxson pounced on the loose ball, which directed the boisterous crowd into a deafening roar.

Hali's senior season was filled with big plays, but none were more iconic than his sack of Smith.

Linebacker Paul Posluszny led stifling effort against an Ohio State offense that came into the game averaging nearly 400 yards per contest. The All-American finished with 14 tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack en route to becoming the first player to earn Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors in three consecutive weeks. Fellow linebacker Dan Connor has 12 tackles, while Hali finished with seven tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. The Buckeyes finished with 230 total yards.

In all, more than 30 players from the two teams that competed that night were selected in the 2006, 2007 and 2008 NFL drafts.

A last-second touchdown in Ann Arbor the very next week was all that stood between the Big Ten and Orange Bowl champions and an undefeated season.

Ten years may have passed, but Oct. 8, 2005 remains as a night Nittany Lion fans that were in attendance or watching at home will never forget.

MRob TD OSU 05.jpg
Calvin Lowry INT OSU 05.jpg

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Indiana Week Q&A - Ricky Rahne

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11385775.jpegUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions return to Big Ten play on Saturday with matchup against Indiana at Beaver Stadium (12 p.m. on ESPN).

Leading up to the clash against the Hoosiers, quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne talked with the media on Thursday to preview the game. Take a look at a Q&A with Coach Rahne.

Q: Where do you think Christian (Hackenberg) has made the biggest strides since last year?
Rahne: "I think there are two things that he's done very well and made big strides with. He's made some great checks in the running game that have really helped us run the ball better, in terms of getting us into good plays and things like that. There have been a couple times where he's checked us into perfect gains and touchdowns and things of that nature. And then the other thing I think he's done very well; he's taking care of the football. That's been a huge point of emphasis and something he's done a great job of doing. It's helped win some games."

Q: Christian has talked about working on his footwork with shorter drops. How has he done with that and why is that important?

Rahne: "I think that is something quarterbacks work on forever. You see every time I watch an NFL game and a guy throws an incomplete pass, you see him look down at his feet, like, man I screwed that up. He's done a nice job with that in terms of working on that. The reason that it's important is because of the timing of some of those quick throws. You have to have your feet set in the right area. You have to have your weight set in the right place so that you can be accurate on those passes. If you are under center, it's one, two three and the ball is out. From the shotgun, you may be throwing it with or without the laces. The feet are the things that are going to make you be as accurate as possible on those passes."

Q: How would you evaluate the team's short passing game in the flat and over the middle? It looks like the timing isn't quite there yet.
Rahne: "It's something that we are continuing to work on. It goes back to the footwork that I discussed in the last question. We just have to make sure that the feet sync up with all of the routes and the consistency of that. I think Christian has done a really good job of working on that. It's just a matter of the wide receivers taking the exact right route, Christian taking the exact right drop and the guys up front that they are setting according to the route. It is a team game on that end of it. I think we have made some progress on some of those things, but we just have to continue working on it."

Q: How does an effective run game impact the way you are able to have a successful passing game?
Rahne: "It's very beneficial because it allows you to get in more manageable situations. I think if you look around the country, no one is really great in third-and-long. That's what defenses are striving to get into. You have all of these great pass rushers. We have Carl Nassib. He loves being in third-and-long. Being able to run the ball puts you in a position where you still have the defense in a run-pass conflict and that is when offenses are going to be most successful. You keep the defenses guessing. You make sure they are playing sound defense and not just teeing off and going after the quarterback. The run game is obviously critical. Christian's ability to read defenses and get us in and out of good plays has been a great asset for us this year and will continue to be so throughout the season."

Q: How important is that dialogue between series on the field to make adjustments and how has Christian grown in that area of making suggestions as he has gotten older?
Rahne: "I think when you get older you start to understand kind of what you are seeing a little better. Not only are you going to have more suggestions, but they are going to be more valid. You can actually think about things (based on what you have previously seen), as opposed to when you are younger and just throwing some stuff out there. His suggestions are great. We talk about a bunch of different stuff on the sideline. We are able to talk through the coverages; what he's seeing and what I'm seeing or what I thought he should have done. Sometimes I'm asking him tendencies of defenses and things like that because it may be hard for me to see that from the sideline. It's good dialogue. We trust each other enough where he can voice his opinion and I can voice mine. At the end, we are just trying to move the ball down the field, score points and win games. I think that process has gotten better this year and helped us make some adjustments."

Q: You guys have looked to throw the ball on the run, how would you evaluate Christian's ability to throw on the move this year?
Rahne: "I think he is throwing the ball fairly well on the move. There have been times where he threw the ball out of bounds on plays to avoid lost-yardage plays. He's done a nice job covering the play. Obviously all quarterbacks miss some passes, but I've been happy with his progress throwing on the move. I think he's done a nice job with that. In general, I've been happy with the way he has worked on his mechanics making sure he has a good athletic base and balance. I'm excited about this week for him to go out there and continue to improve; and our whole offense to go out there and improve and let our wide receivers and tight ends to make plays down the field."

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VIDEO: James Franklin Practice Update - Indiana 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 will host Indiana on Saturday at 12 p.m. in Beaver Stadium in second Big Ten game of the season. Take a look at the practice update from Indiana week.

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