STATE COLLEGE — Check the record books. This may have been a first.
Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner, wearing No. 98 in honor of Wolverines legend Tom Harmon, was intercepted by another No. 98, Penn State defensive end Anthony Zettel.
Zettel, a Michigan native as fate would have it, was making his first career start for the Nittany Lions, and he made it count.
His first interception was one of three first-half interceptions turned in by a rejuvenated Penn State defense that helped the Lions forge a 21-10 halftime lead over the Wolverines.
Jordan Lucas and Zettel both had interceptions to set up touchdowns. Fellow Michigan native C.J. Olaniyan also hammered Gardner for a sack and a forced fumble that was recovered by DaQuan Jones.
Coming into the week, Lions coach Bill O’Brien stressed the importance of improving the team’s turnover margin, which was ranked toward the bottom of the Big Ten.
“Yeah, we definitely work on that, we really do,” O’Brien said. “We do a lot of drills on that and coach it up, and whether it’s ball drills, interception drills, strip drills, fumble recovery drills, blocked punt drills, we drill it. And we need to do a better job in that area, no doubt about it.
“So we’ve just got to keep working on it, emphasize it on film. When we see a good play, somebody that’s caught an interception or recovered a fumble in practice, ‘hey, great job,’ and emphasize it and hopefully we’ll start getting that turned around a little bit.”
Senior wideout Brandon Felder (ankle) and junior safety Ryan Keiser (hand) were both in uniform and on the field against the Wolverines. Keiser was sporting a black cast on his left hand and started the game at safety.
Felder made an immediate impact, catching two touchdowns in the first half. Keiser rotated with Malcolm Willis in the secondary.
Nyeem Wartman (shoulder) had been limited last week, as Stephen Obeng-Agyapong started in his place. Against Michigan, Wartman was back in his customary spot in the starting lineup.
On the other sideline, Michigan welcomed back star linebacker Jake Ryan, who was playing in his first game since the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day. Ryan, who has also played some rush end, tore an ACL in March during spring practice and was just cleared to return to game action this week.
Ryan did not start and saw limited snaps for the Wolverines.
A different role for Barnes
Defensive end Deion Barnes saw his snaps reduced early in the game Saturday as Zettel started in his place. Barnes played mostly on obvious passing downs.
Barnes, the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year, has 12 tackles and half a sack though five games.
“I think he’s had a relatively good year for us,” O’Brien said entering Big Ten play. “I think people have paid attention to him. You would if you were playing Penn State and this guy was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. You’re not going to let him disrupt the game, so you’re going to make sure you chip him or put a tight end over him.
“Deion has played well, he’s a guy that stays after practice every day, just a tough guy, Philly guy, to me he’s playing fine.”
Another week to rest
The Lions will have another week to lick their wounds, facing their second and final bye of the season.
All Big Ten teams ended up getting two weeks off this year because of the way the calendar fell — there’s an extra Saturday during the regular season, so it’s a rare occurrence.
In general, O’Brien isn’t a big fan of having two weeks off — Penn State’s are coming just three weeks apart — but he said it could end up being beneficial for this year’s team.
“I like one (bye week),” O’Brien said Thursday. “Now, I think for us, where we’re at right now as a football team, I think another bye will help us because it gives us some extra practice time.
“But I’m a one bye week guy. Coming from the NFL where everyone had one bye week, I always thought that was a good way to do it.”
Penn State returns to the field Oct. 26 to play undefeated Ohio State in Columbus. It’s the first of six straight games to close out the season, with three at home and three on the road.