Mike Hull said right after he broke off the line, he knew he was going to make a play.
Ohio State lined up to punt deep in its own territory in the second quarter against Penn State on Saturday. Hull came untouched off the left side, and as punter Ben Buchanan took a few steps to his right for a rugby punt, he was met by a diving Hull, who blocked the kick into the endzone.
Hull — a junior linebacker who also had three tackles and a sack in the loss — said the Nittany Lions had an overload to the left on the play, and he was able to go right between two blockers. Michael Yancich fell on the ball for the game’s first points.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Hull said. “As soon as you come through free, your heart starts racing, and you just want to make the play and help your team.”
In what was Penn State’s second blocked punt of the season (freshman linebacker Nyeem Wartman stuffed a kick in the team’s season-opener against Ohio), Hull noted he was glad Yancich, a fellow linebacker, was the one who scored. Yancich said Hull not only made a textbook block by taking the ball right off the punter’s foot, but Hull was able to push the ball toward him, allowing him to score his first career touchdown.
“When he blocked it, he still had the awareness as he was going down to swipe it and move it forward,” Yancich said. “It just shows how much of a complete player he actually is.”
A Canonsburg native, Hull is sometimes forgotten as he comes off the bench behind Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges and Glenn Carson. But when he’s on the field, Hull has made his presence felt this season.
Hull’s sack against Ohio State actually came on the same possession as the blocked punt. He took down quarterback Braxton Miller for a loss of six, helping pin the Buckeyes near their own endzone.
The 6-foot, 228-pound middle linebacker has three sacks in eight games, which ties him with defensive end Anthony Zettel for second most on the team. Deion Barnes leads the Lions with four sacks.
“He played a really good game. He played hard, and I’m not surprised,” Carson said. “He’s a tough individual, and he’ll always give 100 percent effort. I’m not surprised by the effort he gave and the big plays he made. He’s a playmaker.”
Penn State has two non-defensive touchdowns this season, and Hull has played a big role in both.
In addition to the blocked punt in the team’s 35-23 loss to the Buckeyes on Saturday, Hull scored on a 74-yard fumble return in the Lions’ week three win against Navy.
“I just try to do anything that helps the team, and the coaches and defensive line put me in position to make plays,” Hull said. “It’s working out for me.”
With 29 tackles, Hull has the most of any non-starter for the Lions, and he has also obviously been a big part of Penn State’s special teams unit. Yancich said he thinks these tangibles will help Hull continue his career at the next level.
“He’s such a complete player,” Yancich said. “He will have every opportunity to play on Sundays someday.”