Nittany Lion 'D' Ready to Rock

Paul Posluszny wants to communicate with only two people before Penn State football games: God and Marilyn Manson. Sometimes Metallica.

Posluszny doesn't have a pregame ritual per se, but he does like to pray. And he likes to listen to the kind of face-melting riffage that would send many ticket holders fleeing from Beaver Stadium back to the safety of their blue-and-white Winnebagos if it ever were to be played over the public-address system. Which, as recent events have made abundantly clear, it won't.

“It just gets me going, gets me pumped up,” the junior linebacker said. “I feel like I'm ready to go. The adrenalin's going, and I'm ready to play football.”

Whether his inspiration is coming from on high or from Slipknot, another favorite, Posluszny has indeed been ready to play this season. He made 22 tackles last week against Northwestern, the most by a Penn State player since Bill Banks had 24 stops against North Carolina State in 1977. Heading into this weekend's action, Posluszny ranks second in the Big Ten in tackles with 48 including a league-high 31 solo stops.

Posluszny's performance against the Wildcats left teammates dazzled. After watching the films, they struggled to put into words what he had done in helping slow down quarterback Brett Basanez and tailback Tyrell Sutton.

“I don't know if it can be described,” defensive tackle Scott Paxson said. “Paul has a huge heart. He's like a machine out there. It's unreal some of the stuff he can do.”

Posluszny will have a chance to make a lot more stops Saturday against No. 18 Minnesota. The Gophers (4-0) are the country's top rushing team. They have the leading rusher in Division I-A in junior tailback Laurence Maroney. They also have a seasoned offensive line, and they figure to test Penn State's run defense after rushing for 288 yards in last year's meeting between the two teams.

All eyes will be on Maroney. He's averaging 174.5 yards a game and also leads the country in all-purpose yards (220.8 a game). Against Purdue, which was giving up only 16 rushing yards per game heading into last week's matchup, Maroney finished with a career-high 217 yards.

The key to Maroney's success is his speed, which is listed at 4.4 seconds in the 40. The 5-foot-11, 210-pounder has the power to bowl over would-be defenders, but it's when he gets into the secondary that he really causes trouble. The Nittany Lions are understandably wary.

“He's a big, strong, fast and tough back who loves to run the ball inside, outside or over you,” Penn State coach Joe Paterno said. “He can catch the ball. He caught five passes last week in addition to running the ball 43 times. He is a heck of a football player. There are three or four backs in this league who are awfully good football players, and he is a great player. He reminds me of [former Nittany Lion tailback] Curtis Enis.”

Less well known but just as critical to the Gophers' success is their marvelous offensive line, which is anchored by senior center Greg Eslinger. Minnesota's blocking scheme requires linemen to be agile as well as powerful. There's a lot of zone blocking and a lot of pulling. At times even the 285-pound Eslinger will pull, a testament to his athleticism.

“They trust their linemen to make a lot of blocks on pulls,” defensive end Matthew Rice said. “You have to be outstanding to make those kinds of blocks. … It's a nice scheme that they run.”

The Lions say they are looking forward to facing a physical opponent after struggling to contain Northwestern's spread offense. While the Wildcats aimed to sow confusion with a wide variety of offensive sets, the Gophers will likely try to overpower Penn State by letting Maroney pound away. They'll undoubtedly try to capitalize on State's preoccupation with the run by allowing junior quarterback Bryan Cupito to hurl some play-action passes downfield. But for the most part they will dare the Lions to stop them on the ground.

That's fine with Posluszny.

“We actually like the style Minnesota brings a lot more,” he said. “We can just line up and play football. There aren't as many checks, so we know what we're going to get.”

Whether the Lions can stop it is another matter. Their first four games were against finesse teams that preferred to use the spread offense to create space for ball carriers. That won't be the case Saturday.

“This is a little different type of offensive football team and psychologically a little different football team in the sense that they want to really knock your brains out all day,” Paterno said. “If you are a good football team, you measure up to each challenge each week because every game is a little different. It will be interesting to see how we handle it.”

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