LB Hodges helps fuel Lions' five-sack game
Penn State running back Joe Suhey, right, leaps into the arms of tight end Kevin Haplea after Haplea scored a touchdown, the only one of the game, against Iowa in the fourth quarter Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Gerald Hodges arrived at Penn State as a hard-hitting safety in 2009. He was moved to linebacker three games into his freshman year and has been there ever since.
Hodges, the Nittany Lions' starting weakside linebacker, helped launch an all-out blitz Saturday against Iowa's passing attack at Beaver Stadium.
Penn State was clinging to a 6-3 lead early in the fourth quarter when Hodges made a game-changing play. He blitzed up the middle on a third-and-7 call from the 45 and sacked Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg for a 7-yard loss and forced the first fumble of his career, which strongside linebacker Nate Stupar recovered at the Iowa 49.
Eleven plays later, quarterback Matt McGloin cashed in on the turnover, hitting backup tight end Kevin Haplea with a 2-yard touchdown pass to seal the 13-3 victory against the Hawkeyes.
"[Defensive coordinator Tom] Bradley was blitzing like crazy," Hodges said. "Every play was a blitz and we were loving it. Every time we got to blitz, we were smiling.
"It was another chance for us to make a good play."
Hodges sprinted off the field after the play and jumped high in the air to chest-bump with graduate assistant Elijah Robinson.
"He always talks to me about my pass-rushing; he always works with me on my pass-rushing," Hodges said. "So, he gave me a chance [Saturday], and once I finally got [the sack], he come out there and gave me a big hit."
The sack by Hodges was one of a season-high five registered by the Penn State defense, which is expected to get injured cornerback D'Anton Lynn (concussion) back this week.
Linebacker Khairi Fortt had 1 1/2 sacks, defensive tackle Devon Still and defensive end Sean Stanley each had one and defensive end Eric Latimore was credited with half a sack.
Strong safety Drew Astorino said Hodges, a junior, played a big role in the victory.
"He did an unbelievable job," Astorino said. "We sent him on a lot of weakside blitzes and he got to the quarterback. He did his job and put pressure on the quarterback.
"He was huge for us."
Penn State (5-1, 2-0 Big Ten), which returned to the USA Today coaches poll Sunday at No. 25, will welcome Purdue (3-2, 1-0) to Beaver Stadium Saturday for homecoming.
Hodges, 6 feet 2 and 234 pounds, leads the Lions defense with 36 tackles. He also has 3 1/2 tackles for loss and is tied with Still and Stanley for the team lead with two sacks.
"Gerald's just a heck of an athlete," Still said. "He's all over the field. The defensive linemen are able to take more chances because we've got guys like him back there that can make up for it."
Hodges, from Paulsboro, N.J., has suffered some minor bumps and bruises this year, ranging from a sprained ankle to an injured elbow.
A year ago, he sustained a hairline fracture of his left leg on the opening kickoff in the second game at Alabama and missed the next four games. He returned Oct. 23 against Minnesota and finished with 31 tackles.
He played in every game as a freshman, mostly on special teams.
"I feel as though I came back better and stronger this year and even more mentally stronger [from the leg injury]," Hodges said. "It was frustrating, but I feel like some good came out of it, too."
Hodges eventually would like to play strongside linebacker, following the same path that was paved by former Penn State standouts Sean Lee and NaVorro Bowman on their way to the NFL.
"I look at those guys and I'm like. 'These guys did it. I can do it,'" Hodges said. "I just try to take what I can do and put it with the technical part and the instinct part, put them together, and just try to play football.
"At the same time, the position I am, it's kind of hard to do that. My time will come. I just keep praying, keep my mind clear and my frustration down and when you're playing, you want to get involved.
"We've got a good defense -- you want to be a big part of that defense."
First Published October 10, 2011 12:00 am