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VIDEO: Michigan State Week Player Q&As - Mike Hull & Akeel Lynch

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - catches up with senior linebacker Mike Hull and junior Akeel Lynch leading up to the Michigan State game.

Week 11 Press Conference Roundup - Michigan State Week

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10575585.jpegJames Franklin Transcript - Nov. 25

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State (6-5, 2-5) returns home for the final regular season game of 2014 on Saturday against No. 8 Michigan State (9-2, 6-1). The Lions and Spartans are set to collide in a Senior Day showdown at 3:30 p.m. (ABC).

Head coach James Franklin previewed the matchup against the Spartans on Tuesday afternoon inside the Beaver Stadium Media Room.

Saturday will be a special day for 17 seniors on the roster. A group that has been through seemingly everything during its time on campus will be honored prior to kickoff. A senior class that stuck with the program during some of its toughest times deserves a tremendous ovation from the Nittany Lion fans.

"I think what we've been through the last three years and what these guys have meant, how they've stuck with this university and the football program and the community as well have been tremendous leaders, have been tremendous ambassadors both on and off the field and in the classroom," Franklin said. "It's significant. I think everybody in our program, all the players kind of look up to them, which is typically the case in most programs. But I think it's magnified, obviously, from what they've been through."

Six of Penn State's seven captains for 2014 are seniors. The lone exception is sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Coach Franklin said that the captains met with him in his office on Saturday evening following the Illinois game. It's a group of senior players that is incredibly passionate about the program in every sense of the program.

"We sat there for probably at least an hour talking about a lot of different things," Franklin said. "They've been awesome. I think it's probably like this in a lot of professions, but you get frustrated or disappointed and you're going through some challenges or adversity. As long as you're surrounded with really good people that care and are committed, you can talk through it, you feel better. I know they made me feel better. Gave me some perspective on some things, really valuable. I think these seniors have been unbelievable. I know myself as well as the rest of the staff and the young guys look up to him and are very, very thankful."

Mike Hull will be one of the 17 players honored on Saturday. With every fiber of his body, Hull embodies what this class and Penn State Football stands for. A tremendous individual off the field, Hull has put together one of the best seasons by any linebacker in school history. Hull enters the final week of the regular season with 121 tackles (11.0 tpg), which ranks seventh in the nation.

Hull is excited for the challenge to compete against a superb offense in his final game at Beaver Stadium.

"Yeah, it's definitely going to be a fun atmosphere. It's going to be a great challenge," Hull said. "That's what we like especially defensively. Want to keep our team in this game and give us every chance of winning. We're just going to have to step up and it's going to be a really fun time."

While every game on the schedule is treated the same when it comes to the squad's preparation, this week's Senior Day buildup adds an extra element of anticipation for Franklin and the underclassmen. The Nittany Lions want to send the group of 17 on a high.

"We're focused on playing Illinois this week at the end of the year," said Franklin. "If people tell us we have an opportunity to go somewhere, we'll be excited about going there. But we're focused on Illinois, and that's how you make sure that you're able to come out and play as consistent as you possibly can week-in and week-out, by taking it one game at a time."

The Nittany Lions and Spartans will meet for the 29th time on Saturday.

Press Conference Notes
- Franklin on the Michigan State offense:
"Great experience, seven starters, multiple pro offense, very balanced. Again, one of the things that jumps out to you, their quarterback is having a great year, but he's playing behind a really, really strong, physical, massive offensive line that does a great run game and also does a great job protecting them as well. That allows them to be balanced. No. 6 in the nation in scoring offense, No. 7 in the nation in total offense, No. 11 in fewest turnovers. No. 1 in the Big Ten in passing offense. Connor Cook is having a great year. Running back Jeremy Langford is having a really, really good year, and then you've got wide receiver, No. 14, Tony Lippett is having a great year as well."

- Franklin on the Michigan State defense:
"They're a 4-3 team. Quarters in the secondary with two run support safeties and they press you on the outside. You're pretty much one-on-one because those safeties are run players. Probably the most similar defense that I've seen to Alabama in terms of body-type and model. Their offense, defense, and special teams are very specific about what they're looking for, long, athletic guys. D-line is really long, linebackers are long. You look at the DBs and almost everybody is over six-foot. They run to the ball extremely well. They're very physical. They're No. 1 in the nation in turnover margin, number three in the nation in turnover gains recovered. No. 8 in the nation in rushing defense, and No. 15 in sacks. No. 1 in the Big Ten in defensive touchdowns. They've forced 61 three-and-outs. This is a good defense we're facing."

- Franklin on the Michigan State special teams:

Special teams in Coach Tressel. They're number 8 in the Big Ten in punting. Long, rangy, consistent with their schemes. Been very, very impressed with what they do as well."

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Monday Notebook: Lions Open Thanksgiving Week By Lending a Hand

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10257695_10152609037848198_8015578236614393127_n.jpgUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion football student-athletes have a lot to be thankful for as the calendar approaches the Thanksgiving holiday.

An opportunity to attend a world-renowned institution like Penn State and compete on the gridiron at the highest level is something the group takes very seriously. As figures in the community, the student-athletes understand the importance of giving back to the loyal supporters and those less fortunate whenever the schedule permits.

With the academic calendar on Thanksgiving break for the week, Monday's off day was a terrific opportunity for the Nittany Lions to serve the community. More than 60 members of the football team spent time in the community on Monday at three different locations around Centre County.

"It's very important for us to get out and be with the community, especially since it is Thanksgiving week," linebacker Jason Cabinda said. "People here care so much about our football team. To be able to give back and thank those people for what they do every day is really great. We just want to thank them and let them know how much we appreciate them."

Two buses of players traveled to the State College Food Bank in the morning hours on Monday to help move more than 1,000 pounds of food. In 2013, alone, the State College Food Bank helped nearly 800 unique households receive approximately 3,300 food distributions.

An additional group of players visited The Village State College during the middle part of Monday, as well. The Nittany Lions helped serve food, take photos, eat lunch and visit with the elderly.

"It was really cool," Cabinda said. "They were just so joyous to see us. They have been fans of the program for so long. I feel really great that our games can be like a mini family reunion for so many people. Everyone comes together, and this group is a really cool part of that."

A collection of student-athletes also traveled to Bellefonte on Monday afternoon to spend time at the Bellefonte Youth Center. The Lions served food and visited with the children at the Centre County Youth Bureau's Bellefonte Youth Service Center. The Center provides meals to approximately 25-30 children daily.

"Spending time with kids helps us relax and have some fun," said Chasz Wright. "The kids look at us as role models; they want to be like us. That's eye opening and humbling."    

The team will resume football duties on Tuesday with meetings and practice in preparation for the Michigan State game.

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Nittany Lion Defense Remains Among Nation's Best
The Nittany Lion defense remains among the top units in the nation. Penn State is the only FBS team in the top five in rushing defense, total defense, pass efficiency defense and scoring defense. The Nittany Lions are No. 1 in the nation against the run (81.7 ypg.), No. 3 in the nation in total defense (267.2 ypg) and No. 4 in the nation in scoring defense (16.2 ppg) and No. 3 in pass efficiency defense (94.78)

Additionally, Penn State is second in third down conversion percentage defense (27.6 percent), is third in the nation in first downs defense (156 total), is 15th in passes intercepted (15) and is No. 17 in passing yards allowed (185.5 ypg).

Penn State is also one of just two teams in the nation to have not allowed a rushing play of 30 or more yards (Syracuse). The Lions also lead the nation with fewest plays of 30 or more yards allowed this season (7).

Lions in the Stat Rankings
Several Nittany Lions remain among the leaders in national and conference statistical categories. Here is a weekly breakdown of Penn State players in the stat rankings:

QB Christian Hackenberg - Hackenberg is third in the Big Ten in passing yards (2,411) and passing yards per game (219.2 ypg). The sophomore is second in the conference in completions per game (19.55).

WR DaeSean Hamilton - Hamilton is 23rd nationally (first in the Big Ten) in receptions per game (6.3). He ranks fifth in the Big Ten in receiving yards per game at 72.1.

LB Mike Hull - Hull leads the Big Ten and is ninth in the nation in tackles (11.0 per game). He is second in the Big Ten and 18th nationally in solo tackles per game at 6.0.

K Sam Ficken - Ficken is third in the nation and first in the Big Ten in field goals made per game at 2.00. He is also 11th nationally in field goal percentage (84.6 percent).

Early Look at the Spartans
The 11th-ranked Michigan State Spartans enter the final week of the regular season on a two-game winning streak. Michigan State's only losses this season came at the hands of then-No. 3 Oregon on the road (46-27) and then-No. 14 Ohio State (49-37).

The Spartans are ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten in total offense (514.5 ypg) and the No. 3 in the Big Ten in total defense (299.0 ypg). Rated as the Big Ten's top passing offense, Michigan State has scored 27 or more points in every game on the schedule this season.

Quarterback Connor Cook is the Big Ten's leading passer (2,720 yards). Running back Jeremy Langford is ranked seventh in the nation in rushing touchdowns (17). Receiver Tony Lippett is 10th in the country in receiving touchdowns (10).

Penn State and Michigan State will collide for the 29th time on Saturday. The Nittany Lions lead the series, 14-13-1. The two schools met annually on the final week of the regular season from 1993-2010.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: James Franklin Postgame at Illinois

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Head coach James Franklin addresses the media following Saturday's game at Illinois.

VIDEO: Postgame Player Interviews - at Illinois

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Several Nittany Lions address the media following Saturday's game at Illinois.

2014 Photo Blog - Penn State at Illinois

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


2014 Game Blog - Penn State at Illinois

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

Live Blog 2014 Game Blog - Penn State at Illinois

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

2014 Gameday Preview - Nittany Lions Travel to Illinois

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Game Blog: Penn State at Illinois

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Illinois Week Q&A - Assistant Coach Charles Huff

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10553346.jpegUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State special teams coordinator and running backs coach Charles Huff spoke with the media on Thursday.  The Nittany Lions travel to Illinois on Saturday at noon (ESPN2). Take a look at a Q&A with Huff.

Q: The running backs have talked about the "chin" concept that you have taught them. What kind of impact has that had on them in terms of good ball security?
"A lot of times coaches ask kids to do something, but they don't tell them how or why. When I got here, that was one of the first things that was brought to my attention that the backs in the past had a problem putting the ball on the ground. Going back and looking at all of the film from last year, the same problem would come up (holding the ball). A lot of times, coaches assume kids know how to hold the ball. You've got to really teach them from ground one. We started it with where you put your hands, where you put the ball on your chest, where it goes on your forearm and biceps. Chin is kind of the acronym that puts it all together so that you aren't yelling five different things when a kid is running down the field. But the key of it is that you want to kind of keep the ball as vertical as possible as long as possible because that limits the area defenders can put their helmet on and the area defenders are able to grab on it. And when it comes to getting hit, the vertical angle reduces the chances of the ball coming out. When I first got here, they thought it was a little awkward, but as things went on and we continued to show them the importance of it and how it helps them, and I really think the biggest part was that as the season went on and they were doing it and they didn't fumble the ball they started believing in it. And now that's kind of who they are. They take pride in being a group that doesn't put the ball on the ground. It will continue to grow."

Q: What did you see from the running game last week that helped create such a productive day?
"I think it's a true testament to the O-line. When the O-line goes well, the running back goes well. It's a true case because we were able to put either back in there, and they were able to do well because we got some guys back from injury, which creates a little more depth. As they go, we go. Both Akeel and Bill have done a good job being patient. When the opportunities have shown up, they have taken advantage of it. There is more continuity up front, and the result is a bigger running game and the offense is able to roll a little more efficiently if you can run the ball."

Q: What do you think has allowed your young gunners (Grant Haley and Christian Campbell) to be so successful on punt coverage this year?
"The one thing that is big when you talk about the maturity and growth of developing young talent is that you have got to be on the field and you've got to play. A lot of times it's difficult to get on the field on offense and defense as fast because there is a lot more learning. There is a lot more new learning and scheme things that go into it. Special teams is kind of one of those things that is the same across the board. One thing I wanted to do when I got here was keep it as simple as possible so that they can do the things they have been doing on the field their entire life. There is not a lot of thinking and checks. It's just letting you play fast and let you use your ability to be successful. And with that comes repetition. And now these guys are used to being out there. They are used to the speed of the game. They are used to running down the field and making plays. And what happens is, on offense and defense the game slows down for them. And now they are able to think because the game has slowed down. I think that comes from them being on special teams and having some success on special teams. They kind of see that it's the same game they have played their entire life."

Q: What have you seen from Daniel Pasquariello during the past couple weeks at practice that has translated into better results in the games?
"I think it's just him being out there. A lot of people need to remember that he had never played in an American football game. So this is his 10th American football game. Of course as the season goes, it's going to be new. It would be like you or I riding a bike for the very first time. We'd probably be a little wobbly. Over time, he's gotten more comfortable. On the first day of practice, he wasn't sure where all of his pads went. That was only a few weeks ago. So to go from that to where he is, and you help him understand that it is the same game that he has been playing. It's the same technique that you were using in Australia. It's the same technique of how to kick. We are just adding some things around him. Maybe things are a little bit different from a schematical standpoint, but it's just maturity and growth within the process. He still has a long way to go as far as maturation and development. As you become more comfortable, you become more confident. As you become more confident, you are able to take some more risks and do some things that may not be normal in your non-confident ability. And that's where he is at. The one thing he has really done is that he has worked his tail off to be more consistent. A lot of times you work with specialists and they try to kick their way out of it. And then they end up kicking their leg out. He's worked with his fundamentals. He's worked on his drops. He's gotten with snappers. He goes out on off days and works on his fundamentals, and it shows. He knows that we are looking for more from him, but he is getting to become who we expected him to be."

Q: How close do you think Grant Haley is to breaking off a big return for the special teams unit?
"I think he is a lot closer than people think he is. The one thing about a kickoff returner is that you need to have natural vision. That's why a lot of times, you love for your running back to be that guy. Even though you may scheme it up and say that things are going to hit here, when things are flying at 100 miles per hour, you've got to have a guy who can make one move and go at 100 miles per hour. The thing about Grant is that he' doesn't play running back. So for him reading blocks and him constantly being able to lean away from people and making people miss that's not something he does naturally because he doesn't do it everyday. He has that ability, but that's not something he does every day. The thing for Grant is that we don't change the return direction drastically every week, so that the picture is kind of consistent in his mind. Now, where that hurts you is that every team doesn't line up the same every week. So you are tweaking your return to help Grant without putting him in a spot where you say, it's going to split here every time. I think with Grant continuing to see the game and slow down that interception and return for a touchdown was kind of the a'ha moment. I'm looking for big things from him in the return game from here and definitely into the future."

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: James Franklin Practice Update - Illinois Week

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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 travel to Illinois at noon (ESPN2) on Saturday.