The Nittany Lion captain admittedly was caught up in the heat of the moment in last Saturday's opening 23-13 win over South Florida, when he scooped up a fumble and returned it 16 yards for a touchdown. He held the ball loosely in his right hand and flipped it to the ground after crossing the goal line.
The move drew a sharp rebuke from Joe Paterno in a squad meeting. The coach also mentioned it in his Tuesday press conference, saying Zemaitis' TD celebration really bothered me.
One of the more outspoken members of the team, Zemaitis paused for a moment when asked about Paterno's comment, before offering the mea culpa expected of a team leader.
In the heat of the moment, you do a lot of crazy things, he explained. But being here at Penn State Penn State prides itself on handing the football off to the referee [after a touchdown]. I'll do that next time, if there is a next time, which I hope there is.
If the Nittany Lions' performance against the Bulls was any indication, there will be more chances. When Penn State's vaunted defense was in full attack mode early in the game, it got a quick score off Zemaitis' return and set up another touchdown with a Chris Harrell interception.
Once Penn State built a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter, the defense was not nearly as aggressive. Though USF scored two touchdowns to make the final score respectable, one never got the impression the Lions were in jeopardy of losing.
Penn State has now held opponents to 21 points or fewer in 12 consecutive games, the longest such streak in the nation. But Zemaitis and some of his teammates left the field looking as if they had just lost.
The reason you saw that is because we wanted to hold them to zero points, he said. That's how our defense is looking at it this year. A lot of our goals were not met during that game.
While the simple fact USF scored irked Zemaitis, the fashion in which the Bulls hit their first touchdown was not as troubling. Penn State was in a nickel package, with true freshman Justin King manning a corner spot. Pat Julmiste threw an alley-oop pass to 6-foot-5 Johnny Peyton, who used his body to knock King off balance before making the grab.
I had touchdowns scored on me as a sophomore, Zemaitis said. He's an incredible athlete and an incredible cornerback. Nobody should worry about him. He's a fine athlete and an incredible player. He's not even thinking about that now. He's thinking about Cincinnati.
The Bearcats come calling this week, fresh off a 28-26 win over Eastern Michigan in which they cranked out 469 yards of total offense. Zemaitis is looking forward to the task of holding the UC offense in check.
Holding his emotions in check will be a key, too. That's always been a challenge.
To me it is, Zemaitis said. But that's just a part of the program you have to buy into. It's not a problem.
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