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Penn State eager to move past loss to UCF
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We know the names. Mike Mauti. Michael Zordich. Jordan Hill. Matt McGloin.

We know the numbers. “42” (Mauti’s number) on the side of every helmet. “2012” on the facing of the Beaver Stadium luxury boxes.

We know the legacy of last year’s senior class at Penn State. How its members led their teammates through the sanctions and the season, the 0-2 start and the over-the-top finish against Wisconsin.

What we don’t know is who fills their shoes.

The 2013 team hit its first bump in the road last Saturday, and it was miniature in comparison to last year’s gullies -- a single on-field loss, to Central Florida, albeit one that raised questions and left lingering doubts.

“It could be a blessing in disguise,” middle linebacker Glenn Carson said Tuesday, hopefully.

Carson identified himself as a leader, along with offensive linemen Ty Howle and John Urschel, defensive tackle DaQuan Jones and safety Malcolm Willis. Their job, Carson said, is to do the old lead-by-example thing, an idea endorsed wholeheartedly by coach Bill O’Brien.

“There’s a few vocal guys (among the seniors),” O’Brien said, “but all they need to do is what they did (Monday) when they came out to practice, which is practice hard and try to improve every single day. That’s the best way to lead.”

The turnaround is quick, out of necessity.

“I allow them maybe 12 hours of mourning period,” O’Brien said of his players.

Sophomore cornerback Jordan Lucas agreed that it took “not even 24 hours” for everyone to put the defeat behind them.

“Maybe 16 hours,” he said.

Whatever. The point is that the Nittany Lions entertain a very beatable opponent in their final non-conference game Saturday -- Kent State (1-2), a team that topped Liberty in its opener but has fallen to Bowling Green and LSU the last two weeks by a combined score of 86-35.

The Lions must focus on themselves, their defense in particular. With their Big Ten opener looming on Oct. 5 at Indiana, they would do well to shore up their tackling and their pass coverage.

As Lucas said, “It just wasn’t Penn State’s defense (last week). We weren’t executing. We didn’t make plays when we had the ability to make (them), and that’s it.”

But the larger issue is getting everyone pointed in the right direction once again.

“That loss,” Carson said, “was humbling to us. The feeling from that loss -- nobody wants to have that feeling again. … We really are much more focused right now. We want to get back on track and never have that feeling again.”

O’Brien, Carson and Lucas all said that the Lions’ choice to not tackle to the ground in practice (the so-called “thud” technique) was not a factor in their shoddy tackling against UCF. Few schools hit in practice anymore, they argued. And even if a team did, it’s questionable as to how much of a help it would be.

“I've been places where we hit every day and we couldn't tackle anybody,” O’Brien said.

Rather, it’s a matter of fundamentals, Carson said -- making sure as a defender you square up a ballcarrier and have your legs underneath you.

As Lucas added, “We do a lot of technique tackling (in practice). ‘Thud’ has nothing to do with our ability to tackle, because we have a lot of physical guys and a lot of guys that love to tackle. That doesn’t really affect that at all.”

Even so, there might be some personnel changes this week. On the latest depth chart, Mike Hull is listed as the starter at strong-side linebacker, while Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Nyeem Wartman are listed as co-starters on the weak side. Austin Johnson and Kyle Baublitz are also listed as sharing a defensive tackle spot.

Hull injured his right knee in the opener against Syracuse and did not play in Week 2 against Eastern Michigan. He returned in a reserve role last week but looked slow and uncertain.

“Mike Hull wasn’t 100 percent,” Carson said. “My hat goes off to him. He’s a real tough guy, and he wanted to get back out there. This week is going to be a huge week, healing-wise, for him. This week he’s going to be a lot more healthy and ready to go.”

The secondary will have to pick it up as well. Cornerback Trevor Williams -- a converted wide receiver who is, like Lucas, a first-year starter -- struggled to such a degree against Central Florida that safety Adrian Amos slid over to corner in his place. Lucas did not have a great day, either, but he said his performance wasn’t “as bad as the media made it sound.” At the same time, he emphasized that he was unbothered by such portrayals.

“I wasn’t frustrated at all, because I know what it is,” he said. “My teammates know. The media, they do what they’re supposed to do. I’m not mad at that or anything. I can’t worry about that. I’m a football player.”

Willis, a senior, got in the ear of Lucas and the other young defensive backs when the team returned to practice earlier this week, telling them they had to buckle down and be on point Saturday -- advice that was well-received.

“He’s like an older brother to a lot of us,” Lucas said. “And just like any real brotherhood, you’re going to listen to what your older brother says.”

Carson and O’Brien were also quick to defend defensive end Deion Barnes, who after collecting six sacks last year has none through three games and just five tackles.

“That’s not reflective of how he’s playing,” Carson said. “I’m sure he’s hungry and looking to get those sacks this year.”

O’Brien likewise said Barnes is “an excellent player” and that he’s playing “with great effort.”

“I believe people are running away from him,” he said. “I think that people are giving the tackles help in protection with him. I would, too. We've got to do things to move him around and help him out a little bit. We will and we have. But Deion to me is playing well. I'm glad he's on our team, I can tell you that.”

And everyone seems happy to start over.

“The great thing about that is that every Saturday we have an opportunity to go out and redeem ourselves,” Lucas said. “We get another chance to get another ‘W’ on Saturday. That’s how we look at it.”

And how they must look at it.

“Every week,” he said, “we have something to prove. This week we have much more to prove since everybody’s doubting us. We embrace that as a defense.”