Player Spotlight: Anthony Hitchens

Story posted October 19, 2012 in Sports, CommRadio by Matt Lawrence

When the 25 quarterfinalists for the Lombardi Trophy, awarded to the nation's top linebacker, were announced last week, Penn State fans were outraged at the absence of seniors Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges. But when the Nittany Lions take the field in Iowa on Saturday, the best linebacker on the field may be on the Hawkeyes' sideline.

Heading into the eighth week of the season, Anthony Hitchens leads all of college football with 78 tackles. To compare, Mauti and Hodges have recorded 57 and 50 tackles respectively. Hitchens was also snubbed by the Lombardi watch list, and many believe that he is the best linebacker in the Big Ten.

A junior from Lorain, Ohio, Hitchens has exploded on to the national landscape this year after a relatively quiet first two seasons. Plagued by injuries much of his sophomore campaign, Hitchens only appeared in eight games, recording 25 tackles and a fumble recovery. He almost eclipsed that number in a 19-tackle performance in a 9-6 loss to Iowa State earlier this season.

Standing at a mere 6-foot-1, 224-pounds, Hitchens is a relatively small linebacker by Big Ten standards. He possesses the speed and quickness as an outside linebacker that allows him to cover the field from sideline-to-sideline. Against a Penn State offense that thrives off of quick passes on the perimeter, the Hawkeyes will be dependent upon Hitchens’ ability to make plays in the open field.

Compared to a player like Mauti, who has garnered national recognition for his outspoken, boisterous personality, Hitchens isn’t asked by his team to be a leader. Junior middle linebacker James Morris is noted to be the unquestioned leader for the Hawkeye defense, allowing Hitchens to simply go out and make plays in his first full year as a starter.

As has been the case in previous match-ups between these two teams, a major key to the game will be Penn State’s ability to run the ball against the Iowa defense. The Hawkeyes struggled in a 19-16 overtime victory over Michigan State last weekend in containing running back Le’Veon Bell who racked up 140 yards on 29 carries. Bell is a big, power back similar to Penn State’s Zack Zwinak, who could give an undersized guy like Hitchens trouble.

The Hawkeyes have been out of the national limelight in part to two early losses to Iowa State and Central Michigan. Because of this, Hitchens has not received nearly as much recognition as he should. In a primetime contest with the Nittany Lions, Hitchens will have his opportunity to cement himself as an elite linebacker.

Matt Lawrence is a sophomore majoring in Broadcast Journalism. To contact him, email mdl5249@psu.edu.