The Best Revenge

Led by end Tamba Hali's monster game, the Penn State defensive line made sure teammate Michael Robinson got the last laugh against a Wisconsin team that knocked him senseless last season.

Revenge is sweet. Unless, of course, you're Wisconsin junior quarterback John Stocco. Surely the Penn State defense had last year on its collective mind as it continually planted Stocco into the Beaver Stadium turf en route to a 35-14 victory at Beaver Stadium Saturday.

Flashback to last year's Penn State-Wisconsin game in Madison, when the Badgers knocked both of the Nittany Lions' starting QBs out of the game. First, it was Zack Mills leaving with an arm injury suffered when he was hit after throwing a pass. Then, Michael Robinson was planted. Robinson missed two weeks after Erasmus James' head-to-head hit left the QB unconscious on the field.

This time it was Stocco's turn to face the heat. When the final seconds ticked off the game clock Saturday, Stocco had been sacked nine times, including a school-record tying four times by Penn State senior defensive end Tamba Hali, who claimed there was no vengeance factor or malicious intent involved.

Robinson, meanwhile, enjoyed a record-setting day at QB for the Lions.

“We weren't trying to go kill anybody or anything like that,” Hali said after the game, which was the last of his career at Beaver Stadium. “Just trying to get to the passer, that was it.”

Hali's remarkable performance, which resulted in him being named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week, overshadowed a terrific all-around effort by Penn State's front four. Facing a running back in Brian Calhoun who went into Saturday's action leading the nation with 21 touchdowns as well as ranking in the top five nationally in all-purpose yards per game and rushing yards per game, the defensive line more than held its own.

The Nittany Lions limited Calhoun, who was coming off his second five-touchdown game of the season the week before against Illinois, to just 38 yards on 20 carries. As a team, UW had minus-11 yards.

“I think the kids played really well,” Coach Joe Paterno said of his defense. “They did a good job on Calhoun, who's a heck of a back.”

The key was applying constant pressure. Stocco was flushed out of the pocket numerous times, and even when he was purposely bootlegged out of the pocket there was never a Nittany Lion too far behind. More often than not on Saturday, it was Hali, fellow end Matthew Rice, or tackles Scott Paxson and Jay Alford in pursuit.

“We only blitzed them two times all out and probably about six zone blitzes - that's all the whole day,” defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. “When you can get pressure with four, that's always a great thing.”

The defense came into Saturday's contest focused solely on Calhoun, who has been the heart and soul of the Wisconsin offense thus far. After the first quarter, however, it was obvious that there wasn't going to be much room for the Heisman candidate to run.

“That's key,” junior linebacker Paul Posluszny, who had another stellar game with 12 tackles, said of his defensive linemen. “If they're doing their job, then we can drop the rest of the guys into coverage. Any time that they can dominate the line of scrimmage like that, it just makes it easier on everyone behind them.”

Some of the defense's inspired performance could be attributed to the high emotion of Senior Day, considering that seven starters were playing their final home game, including three starters on the aforementioned defensive line.

“Once we stopped the run, we knew our offense would put up some points quick, and once they did that we had to get to the passer,” Hali said, soft-spoken as ever.

Whatever the case may be, Hali, Paxson, Alford and Rice dominated the line of scrimmage as if they were on a mission. Turns out a former Lion great now in the NFL gave them the best advice of all heading into the game.

Anthony Adams called me at the beginning of the week and said to earn the right to rush the passer you have to stop the run,” Hali said. “That just kept playing in my head.”

In a different way, Stocco's too.


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