Defense Searching for Redemption

After playing poorly at times in previous losses to ranked foes, Penn State is looking for a strong wire-to-wire performance against No. 10 Michigan State this weekend.

Penn State has not beaten a ranked opponent this season. In its three matches vs. Top 25 teams, the Nittany Lions have been outscored 86-20, losing to then ranked No. 1 Alabama, No. 17 Iowa and No. 9 Ohio State.

The team's inability to play up to the level of its opponent has been one of many disappointing aspects to the 2010 season.

“It's been a long year for everyone,” said defensive end Jack Crawford. “It didn't really go how I wanted it to personally (because of an injury). As a team, we had a lot of high hopes and we still do, but we just couldn't put things together at the beginning of the season.”

There is a sentiment among the Nittany Lions (7-4, 4-3) that a win over No. 10 Michigan State (10-1, 6-1) this Saturday could redeem their season. The team is more optimistic for this ranked-opponent clash than past games because it is playing at home.

The only problem with that sentiment is Beaver Stadium may be student-free. The university is on its weeklong Thanksgiving break and many students will not return to school until after the noon kickoff on Saturday.

“It's been pretty tough because nobody's up here,” said safety Drew Astorino of a near deserted Penn State campus. “We understand everyone is on break so (poor attendance) wouldn't bother us, but when we say the students are a big deal, we're not kidding. They really mess with the other team's head. The more people that come the better, and if you do go: Hey, come and be loud.”

Win or lose, both Crawford and Astorino feel this season has been a disappointment on certain levels.

Crawford has struggled personally. A foot injury he suffered early in the season has hobbled him all year and he still feels the pain today. Describing himself at 80 percent, Crawford hopes offseason rest will fix the ailment.

“I have an overstretched ligament in the middle of my foot that makes it hard to push off when I'm running,” Crawford said. “The doctors said by resting it the injury should heal, but if it doesn't I may need surgery.

“It's frustrating because I truly do feel I'm a better player than I was last year,” Crawford said. “The lack of production doesn't (reflect that) so it can be tough mentally, but I do feel I am improving.”

As for Astorino, his sense of disappointment comes from the defense's inconsistent play.

“We've played great at times, but others we've been disappointing,” Astorino said. “We need to put together a four-quarter performance. We need to stop the run (vs. Michigan State), that's where we've struggled all year. They're very consistent on offense.”

When suggested Penn State was playing spoiler on Saturday, flipping the script from recent Land Grant Trophy battles, Astorino took issue, stating that the game is just as important to the Nittany Lions as it is to Michigan State, a team playing for a share of the Big Ten title and a spot in the Rose Bowl.

"Every game is big no matter what,” Astorino said. “We want to win every game just as much as they do, no matter what the stakes are. I don't even think about it as a spoiler. If you're concentrating on that, you're concentrating on all the wrong things."

On whether losing the regular season finale would translate into a disappointing year, Astorino said, "I don't know if I'd consider it a disappointment, but let's just say we need this win game."

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