Penn State linebackers Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti are roommates on the road.
The confined boundaries of a two-bed hotel room illustrate personality differences.
“Mauti has ADHD and he always has to be moving around,” Hodges said. “I will tell him, ‘Man, just sit still.’”
As for Hodges?
“I’m more of a laid back, chill type of person,” he said.
On the field, they are anything but relaxed.
The duo’s tenacious play has helped move Penn State to 5-2 overall and 3-0 in the Big Ten play entering Saturday night’s meeting with Ohio State (8-0).
Hodges and Mauti play their outside linebacker positions with a distinct purpose and aggression as they drop running backs, quarterbacks, tight ends and wide receivers.
They are among 12 semifinalists for the Butkus Award, an honor presented to the nation’s top linebacker. Throw in junior middle linebacker Glenn Carson, and veteran linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden has a trio that rivals any group he’s worked with in 12 years at Penn State.
“Athletically, I think they rank right up there at the top of the list,” Vanderlinden said Thursday. “There have been some really good combinations. I think this year’s group is real good. They are all unique in their own way. They are talented and they share a passion for the game and the ability to make plays.”
Hodges and Mauti rest at the emotional epicenter of a defense allowing 15.7 points per game, an inflated number because of two touchdowns given up on kick returns. Their individual numbers are among the Big Ten’s best, with Mauti and Hodges having 65 and 54 tackles, respectively. Mauti leads the team with three interceptions. Hodges has a team-high four pass breakups.
And, yes, they track each others’ numbers.
“We’re constantly motivating each other,” Mauti said. “It’s been a really fun relationship on the field. We are constantly comparing. We just want to make plays. That’s really what it comes down to.”
Vanderlinden said the admiration between Hodges and Mauti is noticeable.
“I see two guys that really enjoy the game, enjoy each other and complement each other,” Vanderlinden said. “I think both Gerald and Mike feed off each others’ enthusiasm and they are trying to be the very best player and support each other in every conceivable way.”
He enjoys it
His former boss got fired and then died of lung cancer. His new boss arrived from the NFL. He’s only surrounded by one coach he worked with last season.
Some might view the year Vanderlinden endured as hectic. He simply considers it part of a zany profession.
“One of the unique aspects about the coaching profession is that you are really in the day-to-day routine and that routine hasn’t changed a great deal,” said Vanderlinden, who joined defensive line coach Larry Johnson as one of two Joe Paterno assistants retained by Bill O’Brien. “Going back to the end of the 2011 season, we had game prep, we had review of practice, we had continued game prep and then it kicked right into recruiting.
“When I was fortunate to be retained, it continued into recruiting and the learning mode of the new system. There really hasn’t been time to reflect. It has been pretty much full speed ahead.”
The 56-year-old Vanderlinden is showing no signs of slowing. In fact, he hinted that he would even pursue a head coaching job if the right one became available. Vanderlinden was Maryland’s head coach from 1997-2000.
“I think every assistant coach would love to be a head coach, however, I enjoy the role that I have and enjoy doing what I’m doing,” he said. “I hope to coach another 10 years. I feel like I’m still a young man.”
Minimizing kicking and punting mistakes is one of Penn State’s focuses this week. Ohio State has blocked six kicks – three PATs, two punts and a field goal – this season and their return teams feature burner Devin Smith, Corey Brown and Rod Smith.
Penn State experienced another shaky special teams performance last week at Iowa. Punter Alex Butterworth averaged 29.3 yards on three punts, Sam Ficken had a 43-yard field goal attempt partially blocked and the Hawkeyes reutrned a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown.
“That wasn’t very good football,” O’Brien said. “I believe we’re better than that. Hopefully they’ll rebound with a better effort because they need to.”
Scoring off field
Penn State is among the Big Ten football leaders in an important category.
The NCAA released Graduation Success Rate scores for 2011-12 on Thursday, and Penn State ranked second in the 12-team conference behind Northwestern. Penn State posted a score of 91 percent. Northwestern had a score of 97 percent.
Penn State ranks seventh nationally among FBS schools. Northwestern and Notre Dame are tied for the nation’s top score.
The GSR includes transfer students and athletes who leave in good academic standing, unlike the federal graduation rate, which does not count transfers.
The rest of the Big Ten scores: Iowa: 82 percent, Illinois: 75, Ohio Stat:e 74, Indiana: 70, Michigan: 69, Minnesota: 69, Nebraska: 68, Wisconsin: 65, Michigan State: 64, Purdue: 59.
Penn State posted a GSR score of 87 percent last year.
Follow Guy Cipriano on Twitter @cdtguy.