Headed into last season, Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges were the focus of just about any superlative you could come up with, and rightfully so. The duo made up the latest in potential All Americans at Linebacker U, and early in the season, they lived up to it, on and off the field. I would argue, however, that the emergence of Mike Hull was as crucial to the Penn State defense’s successes, especially in the seasons final 10 games.
Through the first two games, and two losses of the 2012 season, the once vaunted Penn State defense couldn’t seem to get off the field on 3rd down, or make a key stop late in close games. It was the decision to being to use Hull more and more on 3rd down, especially in passing situations, that played a key role in turning around the fortunes of the PSU defense.
Hull’s overall athleticism was on display against Navy in a 74 yard fumble return, and later in the season blocking a punt to set up a PSU touchdown against Ohio State. Despite never playing a full game at linebacker until the season finale against Wisconsin (although, he did play the majority of the Indiana game following Mauti’s knee injury), Mike racked up 58 tackles (34 solo), including a career high 11 against the Hoosiers.
2013 represents an entirely new challenge for Hull. Obviously with the departure of Mauti and Hodges to the Vikings, Hull is going to take on a much larger role on the field, especially in a linebacker corps lacking significant depth, and even less experience. Perhaps more importantly, he is going to be expected to become more of a leader on a defense that lost plenty of charisma to graduation. By the time the calendar turns to December, I expect him to pass both tests with flying colors, cementing his spot not only as one of PSU’s top players, but also one of the Big 10′s.
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