Out of his pads, defensive tackle Jordan Hill’s polite, smiling disposition almost hides the fact that the 6-foot-1, 292 pound senior spends his Saturdays trying to tackle quarterbacks much smaller than he is.
And, for the most part, he has. But it’s not worth much if the quarterback doesn’t have the football.
“We’ve hit the quarterback a lot in the past six games, more than we have since I’ve been here,” Hill said. “Just hitting the quarterback, now we got to take it to the next step where we are sacking him more.”
Hill holds the defensive line to a high standard. Deion Barnes, Sean Stanley, DaQuan Jones, Anthony Zettel, Kyle Baublitz and Hill have combined for 9.5 sacks through half of the season, quietly succeeding in the shadow of Gerald Hodges’ and Michael Mauti’s stellar senior campaigns at the linebacker position.
This year’s defensive line is on pace to come up just a few sacks shy of last year’s, which tallied 22 sacks in 13 games. The Lions lost 2011 linemen Devon Still, Jack Crawford and Eric Latimore to graduation.
Since they haven’t matched up against many traditional quarterbacks this season, Hill said he expects more sacks as the Lions move deeper into conference play.
The most efficient sack machine for Penn State this season has been Barnes. The redshirt freshman has brought the quarterback down with the ball four times in 2012.
“I would say I'm recognizing what the tackles are doing more coming from the year off,” Barnes said on Sept. 18. “I get to see certain pass sets from tackles. That definitely helps me to see what I can do against certain tackles.”
Hill, the line’s senior anchor, is fourth on the team in sacks at the season’s halfway point. He has still wreaked havoc in the backfield, whether it’s breaking up passes, rushing the quarterback, forcing a fumble or even stealing an interception.
“As a defense, we don’t want any type of momentum change,” Hill said. “If there’s a big change in the game, and the offense doesn’t come in and score right away, we got to come in and stop that.”
The line has likely not reached its potential just yet, as it hasn’t been fully healthy all season. While less severe, Stanley dealt with a back injury earlier in the season that forced him to miss the Temple game.
Pete Massaro was thought to have fully recovered from tearing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee before last season. While much improved, his knee has continued to bother him in 2012. He also sustained a right shoulder subluxation against Virginia, and he missed the next three games before returning to limited action against Northwestern.
“My shoulder has been the main issue,” Massaro said after the Northwestern game. “That’s what’s been keeping me out. The knee is more of a chronic issue. The shoulder is more of an acute injury. It’s something that was holding me off. That’s gotten a lot better.”
After playing about 20 snaps against the Wildcats, Massaro now has nine more days to grab some rest and relaxation. He, Hill, Barnes and the rest of the line will look to translate that recovery period into a sack-happy day at Iowa on Oct. 20.
“It’s going to be great for us,” Massaro said. “The bye week is definitely going to be good for us to get rid of all of our bumps and bruises, especially for me.”