Despite Career Performances, Hull and Zettel Take Blame for Saturday’s Loss

After career games, few have pointed the blame for Saturday’s loss to Ohio State at seniors Anthony Zettel and Mike Hull. Except themselves.

Hull recorded a career-best 19 tackles, along with a timely interception. Zettel tallied a sack, two tackles, and an early second-half interception that he returned 40 yards for a touchdown. And as a defensive unit, Penn State became the first team this season to hold Ohio State to under 300 total yards.

It was an admirable defensive performance, especially given the opponent. The Buckeyes’ freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett entered Saturday’s contest with 17 touchdowns in his last four games. Ohio State hadn’t scored less than fifty points in that stretch.

Hull, Zettel, and the rest of coordinator Bob Shoop’s defense limited Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes to only 17 points in regulation, 10 of which, as has been frequently pointed out, came with the help of the officiating crew. Still, perhaps over-critically, Hull and Zettel both suggested they should have done more, especially in overtime.

“It was kind of on us today,” Hull said after the game.

On a first down early in the fourth quarter, down 17-7, Hull saw Barrett looking in his direction. Barrett, heavily pressured by Zettel and the rest of the defensive line, forced a pass Hull’s way. The linebacker jumped the route, and returned the interception 12 yards. Eight plays later, Penn State was in the end zone and within a field goal.

Hull made the crucial play seem simple and said the film he watched earlier in the week made him anticipate the pass. “I saw [Barrett] staring that way,” he said. “We got pretty good pressure on them and he threw it right to me.”

“He makes plays from sideline to sideline, in the run game and the pass game,” said James Franklin. “You guys have heard me say it before, I have a man crush on that guy.” Franklin continued to say that few players are as consistent, week in and week out, as Hull.

But, as Zettel would attest, compliments can only go so far, and the Nittany Lions’ performance still wasn’t enough. “Our offense put us in a great position,” he said after the game. “And we just need to come through.”

However, Zettel’s statement appears too humble — it was the defense that consistently bailed out the offense, which struggled to gain momentum early in the game.

After a first half in which the Nittany Lions were outscored 17-0 and picked up only 78 total yards, Zettel intercepted Barrett on the fourth play of the second half. From the 40 yard line, the 274-pound lineman outlasted a gang of Buckeyes defenders before ultimately reaching the end zone. It was Penn State’s first pick-six since 2009.

Yet that was all in regulation, and overtime proved to hold a different narrative. Ohio State needed only six plays to reach the end zone twice, all of which were runs, and all of which went for positive yardage.

“We kind of dropped the ball there in overtime as a defense,” Hull said. “We knew what we had to do, and we didn’t do it.”

Barrett, who had been limited for most of the second half with an apparent knee injury, returned in form and torched the Nittany Lions for both touchdowns in the extra sessions. Zettel, Hull, and the rest of Penn State’s defense seemed exhausted: Ohio State possessed the ball for nearly 10 minutes more than Penn State in regulation.

But as Franklin and the rest of players available to the media suggested early Sunday morning following the loss, it’s time to look forward. On Saturday, Penn State faces Maryland in a game during which Penn State will hope to end its three-game losing skid, its longest since 2004.

Hull and Zettel will face another formidable offense who have put up at least 35 points five times this year.

“We’re going to do everything to win,” said Hull. “That’s why I love Penn State so much.”

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Ben Berkman

State College, PA

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