Penn State still seeking respect as No. 10 Spartans visit for finale
As he prepared for his final opportunity to play in front of the fans at Beaver Stadium, Penn State fifth-year senior linebacker Mike Hull allowed his thoughts to shift from his many admirers to those who doubt the defense he leads and the Nittany Lions as a team.
Even on an afternoon when he will receive an outpouring of love, the Canon-McMillan graduate will mind the haters.
A Big Ten finale at 3:30 p.m. against No. 10 Michigan State (9-2, 6-1) gives Penn State (6-5, 2-5) the opportunity to cap one of its less impressive regular seasons with a reinvigorating upset. A loss would leave the Nittany Lions with a non-winning regular-season record for the first time since 2004.
“I think if we win Saturday, we can prove we’re better than what our record shows,” Hull said. “Especially on defense, if we hold this high-powered offense in check, then we can finally gain a little bit of the respect we haven’t gotten all year.”
The Nittany Lions haven’t beaten a top-10 opponent since Oct. 25, 2008, when they topped No. 9 Ohio State on the road as the No. 3 team in the country. They’re 0-5 in attempts since.
They last upset a top-10 opponent while unranked in 1987.
These Nittany Lions aren’t strangers to a stunning positive outcome, though. In their final game a year ago, they edged No. 14 Wisconsin, 31-24, in Madison.
“As far as us being underdogs, we accept that and we embrace that,” junior cornerback Jordan Lucas said. “We’re not going to lay down and roll over to a good Michigan State team. We’re going to show everybody that we’re a good Penn State team.”
Penn State can point to its 31-24 double-overtime loss to now-No. 6 Ohio State on Oct. 25 as an indication of its potential. But the Nittany Lions desire more than just another moral victory.
The Spartans, meanwhile, seek their fourth season with at least 10 wins in five years. Before this run, their last 10-win campaign came in 1999.
“Our program has been going up and up and up,” said Spartans redshirt sophomore cornerback Demetrious Cox, a Jeannette grad who started for the first time last week. “I feel like the only way you get respect is consistency, and for us to get a 10th win this year would just put us on that next plateau.”
Michigan State ranks in the top eight nationally in total offense, scoring offense, total defense and rushing defense.
While Penn State’s defense compares favorably — it ranks among the top four in total defense, scoring defense and rushing defense — its offense lands at the other end of the spectrum: 113th in total offense (333.9 ypg), 107th in scoring offense (20.6 ppg) and 113th in rushing offense (109.5 ypg).
Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said he believes his group will thrive Saturday by sticking with what has worked.
“As long as we’re able to play fast, that’s really the key,” Shoop said. “Michigan State certainly will provide as tremendous a challenge as we’ve faced all year.”