Mauti Ready for Next Test

Against YSU, he proved his knee is fine. Now he's anxious to head to Tuscaloosa with his teammates and take on the top-ranked Crimson Tide.

It's No. 1 Alabama, at Alabama. The defending national champs, way down south in Dixie. Of course Saturday's game means more to No. 19 Penn State than its usual September fare, as linebacker Michael Mauti said Tuesday morning.

“As much as we'd like to treat it as another game on the schedule, for us it's definitely a statement game,” the redshirt sophomore linebacker told reporters on a conference call. “It's one of those games, it will set the bar. It's a measurement of where we're at as a team.”

Mauti passed a test of his own in last Saturday's season-opening 44-14 victory over Youngstown State, returning to the field after missing all of last season with a torn ACL in his right knee. He said he felt fine, that in the coming weeks he is looking to “kind of fine tune” his game.

He did not start against the Penguins, but replaced Nate Stupar at strongside linebacker on the second series and alternated with him for an extended stretch. Mauti also saw some time in the middle, in place of Chris Colasanti.

“I was pretty anxious at first,” he said after the game. “It took a couple plays to settle down.”

But he was satisfied with an outing that saw him credited with five tackles, one of them a solo. It was just the kind of game he needed before heading down to Tuscaloosa. Same for the Lions as a whole, more than likely.

Which does not diminish the size of the challenge they face Saturday. Tide running back Mark Ingram, last year's Heisman Trophy winner, is expected to miss his second straight game, after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee last Tuesday.

But 'Bama did not appear to miss him in last week's season-opening 48-3 drubbing of San Jose State. Redshirt freshman Eddie Lacy -- the third-stringer -- ran for 111 yards and two touchdowns. And sophomore Trent Richardson, who accumulated 751 yards (5.2 a pop) as Ingram's backup last year, added 66 and two scores of his own.

“They make good reads,” Mauti said of the Tide backs. “They make great cuts. They make guys miss.”

And quarterback Greg McElroy makes the team go. He has not lost a game as a starting quarterback since eighth grade -- though that is a little misleading, since he only started one year of high school ball in Texas (future Missouri star Chase Daniel was ahead of him on the depth chart) and just became the regular last year at Alabama, when the Tide went 14-0 en route to the title.

Still, he is one of those cerebral guys (on and off the field, having graduated last year with a 3.86 GPA in business marketing). He's not likely to make a huge, game-turning error. And last week he was a tidy 13-for-15, for 218 yards and a touchdown.

“It starts out with the quarterback,” Mauti said. “He's got a great arm, and if he doesn't see anything, he can beat you with his legs, too.”

The Lions will also see some Wildcat -- “We're definitely preparing for that,” Mauti said -- and in general the speed for which the SEC has become known.

“It seems like Penn State has held its own with the SEC in past years,” Mauti said, noting last year's victory over LSU in the Capital One Bowl. “The SEC has been the dominant conference, but I think the Big Ten's coming back.”

But really, he added, “We try not to look too much at that stuff. We just try to play the best ball we can. We're just trying to hold up our end of the bargain in the SEC-Big Ten deal.”

Mauti, son of former PSU wide receiver Rich Mauti, chose Penn State over Oklahoma and Florida coming out of high school in Mandeville, La. And he enrolled early, in January 2008, then saw time on special teams and as a reserve the following fall.

But he tore up his knee in preseason drills last August.

“I felt like I was making a run to be a pretty big contributor to the team,” he said in an interview this past winter. “It was definitely tough.”

The toughest part of all, he said, was being reduced to spectator. But he rehabbed diligently, and by June felt he was ready to go.

“I feel he's just as good now, if not better, as he was before the knee injury,” Colasanti said last week.

Mauti, who wore a knee brace as a precaution in the opener (and will continue to do so), has been practicing in the middle and on the outside -- “half and half, really,” he said after the Youngstown State game -- and said he feels comfortable at either spot. He and his teammates have also been logging on to a computer program that is available to the players, one that allows them to access video of any opponent at any time.

Maybe they did it every now and then over the summer, Mauti said. But they began doing so a lot more frequently, once the preseason began.

“A couple series here and there,” he said, “every day.”

Now they get to see the Tide in the flesh. Now they get to see just how big a measuring stick this game will be.

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