Competition spurs Penn State's Mauti, Hodges
The competition that has pushed Penn State outside linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges to new heights could have a significant impact on Saturday's game at Beaver Stadium.
Penn State's ability to contain elusive Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller will go a long way toward the Nittany Lions beating the unbeaten Buckeyes. The more Mauti and Hodges hit Miller, the better the Nittany Lions' chances of delivering the first signature win of the Bill O'Brien era.
Mauti and Hodges will lead a unit that has to find the proper balance between playing aggressively and staying disciplined against Miller. Mauti has done just that in helping Penn State dominate opponents since Week 2 and establishing himself as a candidate for first-team All-America honors.
“He's got the right blend of enthusiasm, intensity, a lot of energy, but he doesn't go overboard where he loses his focus,” Penn State linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden said. “I think that would always be a concern that if somebody is revved up that they're just kind of running around crazy, and Mike doesn't do that. He's played a lot of football, and that's his personality to be amped up, and I'm glad it is because every team needs two or three guys like that. I think on, the field, he and Gerald Hodges both provide that kind of energy.”
The two are road roommates and the soul of a defense that has allowed only five touchdowns in three Big Ten games.
Hodges started his career as a safety, and Penn State played the Paulsboro, N.J., native as a freshman because the coaches didn't think he would stay for five years. Mauti also played as a true freshman, but his career was sidetracked twice by major knee injuries.
They took different routes to stardom, but there is no doubt they have arrived.
Mauti and Hodges are first and second on the team in tackles with 65 and 54. Mauti is among the Big Ten leaders with three interceptions, and Hodges has been credited with four passes broken up.
“I see two guys that really enjoy the game and enjoy each other and complement each other, and so I think Gerald and Mike feed off each other's enthusiasm,” Vanderlinden said.
“When one makes a big play, the other one's really fired up for him.”
There is, however, an element of competition between the future NFL draft picks, and Penn State's defense has benefitted from it.
“We're constantly motivating each other,” Mauti said. “We've competed against each other for four or five years now, so it's a really fun relationship. We just want to make plays; that's what it really comes down to.”
Scott Brown is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.