NU coach Pat Fitzgerald lauds grittiness of PSU LB Michael Mauti
BY NEIL HAYES firstname.lastname@example.org October 2, 2012 8:50PM
Navy v Penn State
Updated: November 4, 2012 6:23AM
Pat Fitzgerald’s eyes drift to the guards and linebackers when he watches football just for fun. He can’t help himself. The former two-time Chuck Bednarik Award winner remains a linebacker at heart, which is what allows him to appreciate what Penn State’s Michael Mauti has been doing.
The senior was named national defensive player of the week and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week for the second time in three weeks after intercepting two passes to go along with six tackles and half a sack in a rout over Illinois. He set a new school record when he returned one of the interceptions 99 yards.
The Wildcats take their No. 24 ranking and 5-0 record to State College to meet a Nittany Lions team Saturday that has won three in a row in large part because of their ability to force turnovers. Penn State has forced 11 turnovers in the past four games.
“Michael is terrific with his key reads,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s got great eyes. He’s very instinctual. He finds the football. He’s physical at the point of attack. He’s overcome two major injuries and to me that’s the hallmark of what makes him special. I don’t get to coach him but as an outsider looking in, the way he has responded from adversity is really, really special.”
Mauti tore the ACL in his right knee as a sophomore and tore the ACL on his left knee after starting the first four games of last season. He leads Penn State with 48 tackles.
The ball is in the air and the receiver and defensive back each make a play. More often that not, that situation has resulted in a big gain for Northwestern opponents this season, especially against Syracuse in the season opener and versus Indiana.
Fitzgerald has come up with a simple solution.
“There’s kind of an old philosophy out there in secondary coverage and wide receiver routes: He who jumps first usually catches the ball,” Fitzgerald said. “In all those routes we jumped second. So we’ll try to jump first this week. It’s not a whole lot more complicated than that.”
Safety Ibraheim Campbell and receiver Christian Jones left Saturday’s win over Indiana with injuries and did not return. Both players practiced Tuesday, however. Jones injured his elbow while it appeared Campbell sustained a shoulder injury.