Anthony Zettel Steps Up And Breaks Out Against San Diego State
We all like to think that we know Anthony Zettel by now. The All-Big Ten defensive tackle was on many, many preseason award watch lists, and he was the only player in the nation last year among the leaders in both sacks and interceptions. But today, against San Diego State, we saw the real him.
Zettel lost his father Friday night, but that’s not what this is about. This is about Zettel playing for himself and for his family, and having his best game this year.
San Diego State’s Jake Fely led the game with ten tackles, but partial credit for that goes to Penn State’s dominant offense. When the Nittany Lions were on defense, their best player was No. 98 himself. He paced his team with seven total tackles, and tied for the team lead with three solo tackles and four assisted tackles. He also had half a sack for a three-yard loss and a fumble recovery.
“The last three weeks, it’s been tough,” James Franklin said after the game. “It’s been pretty intense for him and his family, and I guess he’s drove home after each game, so it’s been tough. We’re gonna modify practice tomorrow because we’re gonna go and support him. We still gotta get our work done to get prepared for next week, but we talk about being family, we’re gonna back that up all the time. I thought Anthony and his family handled this unbelievably well, as challenging as it is, and we’re always gonna put that as priority. There was no pressure for him to play the last three weeks, that was up to him, it felt like that’s what his family and his dad would’ve wanted him to do. Special kid, special family, and always brothers in the locker room and we’ll have his back.”
Penn State’s defense has been hit hard by injuries this year (namely, to two starting linebackers, two starting safeties, and a starting corner), but the defensive line has been its most consistent unit by far. The group of Garrett Sickels, Anthony Zettel, Austin Johnson, and Carl Nassib has dominated this year, and this game showed even more. They combined for 14 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and a forced fumble that Johnson took 71 yards for a defensive touchdown.
“I think it shows the type of commitment and the type of bond these guys have as a family, not like as Anthony’s family, but as our family,” Franklin continued. “We’re all going through something together and are doing whatever we can to support him as much as we can. Everybody handles these situations differently, and however these young men decide to handle these situations we’ll be there to support them — whether that’s playing or not playing, Anthony thought that was the right thing to do for that situation and his family supports that. We love him, and his family, and I’m just really proud of him and the whole team.”
The performance we saw today transcends any awards, any statistics, and any watchlists. The defense’s most important unit’s most important player stepped up in a big way, and should be recognized for the player and the man that he is.