Nittany Lions optimistic on future

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MADISON, Wis. -- In between the first game and the last game of the season, you could be forgiven if you forgot about Geno Lewis.

The wide receiver had a 55-yard touchdown reception and then he mostly disappeared, totaling just 81 yards after the opener against Syracuse.

Until Saturday, when Lewis had three receptions for 91 yards and two touchdowns against Wisconsin. He was one of several younger players to play a major role, exciting Penn State coach Bill O'Brien and several veteran players about the future of the team.

"Whenever the coaches ask me to go out there I'm going to take every opportunity like it's my last," Lewis said.

Some of the other less-experienced Nittany Lions who played significantly Saturday were cornerback Trevor Williams, defensive end Austin Johnson, safety Malik Golden and linebacker Brandon Bell.

Williams and Golden largely were playing to fill a need. Cornerback Adrian Amos missed most of the game with a foot injury and in his stead, Williams had three tackles, a pass breakup and a second-half interception when Wisconsin was threatening to score.

He was helped in the secondary by Golden, who played most of the second half in place of Malcolm Willis. Golden had three tackles and a pass breakup.

Bell has been playing more in the past month, shoring up the linebacker position that has been short on depth. Saturday, in his first start, he made one of the most memorable plays of the game.

In the third quarter, he knocked the ball out of Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave's arms, and defensive end C.J. Olaniyan caught the deflection, setting up Penn State's offense deep in Wisconsin territory.

Bell said he has learned from linebackers Mike Hull and Glenn Carson this year. Through them, he has seen the value of intensity during practices and that you must bring that kind of energy all the time.

"Those guys are the epitome of what we do here," Bell said.

It's easy to forget about some of the other young players on this team, too, the ones who have been playing key roles. But quarterback Christian Hackenberg, tight end Adam Breneman and cornerback Jordan Lucas were all playing their first or second season.

After the game, offensive guard John Urschel couldn't say enough about Hackenberg, saying "words can't describe how thankful I am for that guy." Thinking of the freshmen and sophomores overall, he had an optimistic outlook.

"I think the program has a bright future," Urschel said Saturday. "I think you saw that today."

Mark Dent:, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05

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