Last season, then-No. 13 Michigan quieted a raucous Happy Valley when it defeated the Nittany Lions, 28-16. Though the Wolverines controlled Penn State throughout all four quarters, the Nittany Lions did hold them to just 87 rushing yards for an average of 2.9 yards per run.
Senior linebacker Brandon Bell led his unit’s attack on the running game, recording five total tackles, one for a loss of seven yards. More memorably, he recorded his second career interception in the first quarter, returning it 25 yards into Michigan territory. But Penn State failed to take advantage, going three-and-out on the following drive.
Later in the game, Bell gave his teammates favorable field position once more when he stripped quarterback Jake Rudock and recovered the fumble on the Wolverines’ 42-yard line. Bell’s recovery resulted in a field goal, putting his team within eight points of Michigan, but it ultimately wasn’t enough.
This Saturday, when the Nittany Lions (2-1) travel to Michigan Stadium, Bell may not get to see the field, posing a large problem for Penn State. In his first two games of the season, he posted eight and nine tackles, respectively, before being sidelined with an injury last week.
In July, the Daily spoke with Bell at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago to discuss his valuable role last season, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and rivalries.
The Michigan Daily: I know you had a big game against Michigan last season, but it didn’t end in Penn State’s favor. What was that game like, and what are you going to do differently this time around?
Brandon Bell: That game was fun. I mean, I was looking forward to playing Michigan again for the second time in my career — third time, but not really (playing much) the first time. I think we definitely have to be more consistent. I think Michigan was more consistent than we were. When it came down to the end of the game, they made the plays that were presented to them. If we (are) more consistent, we have a chance of making those plays.
TMD: What will it be like to play in the Big House this time around?
BB: I think it will be great. I’m looking forward to it. It’s my last chance to play there. I have a few friends on the team, so I’m looking forward to it.
TMD: Who are your friends on the team?
BB: Freshman Ahmir Mitchell. He’s like a little brother to me back home, same (home) town. I know his older brother. He’s been talking a little trash to me, so I’m excited.
(Note: Mitchell left Michigan prior to the start of the season in early September. He transferred to another Big Ten East team, Rutgers, but will sit out this season due to transfer rules.)
TMD: He’s talking trash already?
BB: Yeah, just a little bit.
TMD: Do you think you’ll be seeing him play as a freshman?
BB: I hope I do! I mean I’m not sure how he’s been doing, but if he gets a chance to get on the field, I hope I see him.
TMD: What do you think of all of this Harbaugh mania and everything? Do you like playing against all of that?
BB: Yeah, I kinda like it. I mean, I don’t — he’s kinda funny. Just watching him today, some of the things — I think it’s real, which is a big thing, for the people that might be skeptical. I think that’s really who he is, so I love it. At the end of the day, we’re just playing football.
Question: A lot of your success, of course, is going to be judged by games against Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, and even Pitt, an in-state rival. Do you sense that, that in order to get to that next level that fans want to be at, do you feel that this is kind of a big year for you to make a bigger step against those teams?
BB: I mean definitely. Every year and every game is a big step. We don’t wanna go out there — we’re not playing to lose. So I mean, definitely with Pitt, it’s kind of a fan game. A lot of Pennsylvania people go to each school, so it kind of has become a rivalry. In terms of Michigan and Ohio State, those are the top-tier teams, and those guys have the target on their back that everyone is shooting for.
Q: Coach Franklin says you guys have expectations this year. What do you think they are?
BB: I say, Big Ten — get to Indianapolis. I mean, when you’re playing against Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, that’s what they’re shooting for. That’s the top tier. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be right there with them.