Penn State senior defensive tackles Jimmy Kennedy and Anthony Adams always held themselves in the highest esteem – even when they were just lowly freshmen.
“Anthony and I used to sit around freshman year and talk about how we were going to dominate the Big Ten,” Kennedy said.
The tackles, along with senior defensive end Michael Haynes, haven’t mastered the entire conference, but clearly showed what they meant by domination last Saturday at Wisconsin. Penn State held the Badgers’ star running back Anthony Davis to just 46 yards on the day and sacked quarterback Brooks Bollinger seven times.
Kennedy, who was held without a sack in the Nittany Lions’ previous four games, treated Bollinger like his personal rag doll, sacking him four times – a Big Ten record for a player in a single contest.
“I had a great day,” said Kennedy, who was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week. “Wisconsin tried to double Mike Haynes and it opened me up a little bit. I had an opportunity to make big plays.”
During the first four games, it seemed like everything was opening up for Haynes, while Adams and Kennedy struggled to fight through consistent double-teaming. Haynes, the converted fullback, took advantage and grabbed the spotlight. He currently leads the Big Ten through five games in sacks (8.5), forced fumbles (4) and tackles for loss (10.5), and even tallied two sacks against the Badgers’ double-teams.
“He’s just been a man among boys,” Penn State linebacker Gino Capone said. “He’s been dominating with his pass rush, and I always knew Mike was a really good player. He’s just really stepped it up.”
While Capone called the unit “as good as anybody in the country,” the trio had more than their share of trouble containing Iowa in State College two weeks ago. The Hawkeyes’ mammoth offensive line pushed the Penn State front around, as Iowa tailback Fred Russell rushed for 142 yards on 35 carries in his team’s 42-35 overtime upset.
“We knew we had to bounce back from the Iowa loss,” Kennedy said. “We didn’t have such a great day against Russell.”
Capone said the change in defensive intensity and pressure that occurred in Madison started up front with the defensive line.
“Those guys are the heart of the defense,” Capone said. “When they play that way, it makes it so much easier for the linebackers and defensive backs. It really gets our defense going.”
So which player will Michigan choose to double team? Will it double-team at all? No matter what the decision is, Michigan’s offensive line – which has given up just eight sacks in five games – will have to be ready for anything.
“They are a force,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “(Kennedy and Adams) are not just two big guys that plug up the middle. They have tremendous quickness.”
The Michigan running attack, led by Chris Perry’s 99.4 yards per game, hopes to exceed Davis’ output from last week. But with Adams and Kennedy (293 and 316 pounds, respectively) pounding the middle of the line, the holes may be a little harder to find.
“They are very difficult to block because they are not only very physical but they are quick,” Carr said. “They are hard to get movement on. To run the football, you have to get that man out of the hole.”
Haynes and Adams have suffered three straight losses to Michigan. Kennedy, the fifth-year senior, has seen the past four. They’re hungry, and they’re putting it on themselves to reverse the trend.
“Every year we lose to Michigan for some odd reason,” Haynes said. “We are trying to be the difference makers.”