Not many guys record 17 tackles for loss, eight sacks and three interceptions in a single season and are considered the second-best defensive player on the team.
That was precisely the situation for Penn State’s Anthony Zettel a season ago.
Despite growing numbers and an improved knack for finding the football, Zettel still found himself walking in the shadow of teammate Mike Hull. Zettel was Robin and Hull was Batman.
Together they created one of the most impenetrable and efficient defensive units in the country. While Zettel put pressure on the quarterback and was able to create problems for the opposing offenses in the backfield, Hull was the sure tackler, averaging more than 10 tackles per game. At the end of the year, Hull compiled 140 tackles.
Combined, the two posted 27.5 tackles for loss. One of the most dynamic defensive duos in college football were the leading reason that Penn State finished the season ranked second in yards allowed per game, seventh in points allowed, and sixth in third down defense.
Thanks to a strong season defensively, James Franklin was able to achieve bowl eligibility in his first season in Happy Valley despite to some rough offensive output.
Because of his grittiness and intensity, Hull received much of the credit for Penn State’s success in 2014. While both were named as first team All-Big Ten defensive players, Hull was a second-team All-American selection. Zettel’s name didn’t make the list.
With the Nittany Lions’ former Batman headed out of the Beaver Stadium doors, it’s time for Zettel to step into the role of Caped Crusader and lead Penn State’s defense to another outstanding year.
It would be a tough role for many to fulfill. Piling up 140 tackles in a season isn’t just a mild contribution, after all. Zettel’s continued development and improvement each season has prepared him to be the captain of an explosive unit without taking any steps backward.
The 280 lb., West Branch, Michigan native may not have tallied as many tackles as Hull, or even a third of them for that matter, but his contribution was highly effective.
Zettel’s 17 tackles for loss ranked second in the Big Ten only behind Ohio State lineman Joey Bosa and reached the quarterback eight times which ranked third in the category in conference play.
His three interceptions are an unlikely yet impressive total considering his position on the field.
The defensive tackles totals from his junior season double his numbers from 2013 when he finished the year with 16 tackles, six tackles for loss and four sacks as a sophomore. If his progression continues at even half that rate, Zettel will be in for a monstrous senior campaign.
His style of play, grit and tenacity mimic that of Zettel which is a solid foundation for the Penn State defense to build upon.
It may take more than Zettel’s predicted totals and possible production to keep Franklin’s crew atop the standings defensively in the country next season but Penn State has a great leader to take the reins.
Now it’s time for someone to step up and take over the part of Robin while Zettel drives th