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Zettel's play a plus for Lions

Anthony Zettel is as good as anyone on the Penn State defense in coming up with plays that result in a minus for the opponent.

Zettel (98) has been a regular visitor to the opponent's backfield.

But the redshirt sophomore defensive lineman is all about the pluses.

Zettel has continued to make impact plays on a defensive line that hasn't produced them consistently. More than a third (four) of his 11 tackles this season have resulted in losses. Last season, in limited action, four of his 15 tackles went for losses -- all were sacks.

His goal, though, is to complete his assignment on any given play, so that when defensive line coach Larry Johnson breaks down the film, assigning a "plus" or a "minus" to each lineman on every snap, Zettel's impact is more positive than negative.

"I want to play every play and get a plus on it," he said. "I want to help our defense every play. Making big plays, that's the key and that's what changes the game, but even if you don't make a big play, if you make a play and help the defense, and the guys around you make good plays, that's the same thing."

Zettel has started two of the last three games at defensive end. His production has not gone unnoticed by head coach Bill O'Brien.

"He makes a lot of plays," O'Brien said. "So why is that? I think number one, he plays extremely hard. He plays every play like it's his last play. That is number one. I think the other thing he is, he's a very strong player. He has great playing strength, so he's able to play off blocks and explode off of a block and make a tackle for a loss."

That strength is what helped Zettel rack up more than 100 tackles -- 82 of them solos -- and seven sacks during his senior season at Ogemaw Heights High School in West Branch, Mich. His every-play-is-the-last approach is harder to define.

"I'm a high-motor guy. I think it's just embedded in me," he said. "I don't know the exact time when it kicked in. I think I've always just been a high-motor guy."

The 6-foot-4, 257-pound Zettel is about five pounds heavier than he was last season. He has moved inside to a three-technique defensive tackle position on rush downs this season and has felt at home there.

"I feel like the future is inside for me, really," Zettel said. "I just like being right up in front with the guards and centers. It's just instinctive. At the d-end there's a lot more space to work around. (On the inside) I feel like I can play faster."

This weekend, Zettel and the Nittany Lions will take on a Minnesota rushing offense that ranks fourth in the Big Ten but 20th in the nation in yards per game (221.1) and has racked up 519 yards on a whopping 106 carries over the last two games.

He should have plenty of chances to generate some pluses for his squad and minuses for the Golden Gophers.

"We're trying to push back the line as far as we can, so we can make more tackles for losses," he said. "Playing with low pads is a big thing. I feel like it's going to be another game of pounding the ball."

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