UNIVERSITY PARK (AP) - Go ahead, SEC fans, knock the Big Ten all you want. It's motivation for Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still to keep knocking over opposing offensive linemen this fall.
Too slow? Too plodding? Still answered questions about whether Big Ten tortoises could keep up with Southeastern Conference hares by turning up his play at the Outback Bowl in January vs. Florida. He recorded career-highs of seven tackles and 3.5 hits for a loss - though Penn State did fall to the Gators 37-24 to end a disappointing 7-6 campaign.
He's using that performance as a springboard to lead an injury-riddled defensive line eager to improve on an inconsistent 2010.
"He brings a mean streak to that defensive line," said center Matt Stankiewitch, who has tangled with Still in practice the last three years. "He does bring that attitude where if he doesn't make a tackle, he's going to be mad."
And those comparisons to the SEC seem to set him off, too. Fair or not, the annual bowl-season debate gave Still added fuel to play well against Florida.
"I just have something against that conference for some reason," Still said Tuesday. "Just all there is about the Big Ten, and the SEC being too powerful or too fast for us - I'm not really into that."
It was tough enough, though, for coach Joe Paterno's crew to just keep up at times with teams in the Big Ten.
Simple tasks like tackling became a headache. Injuries, especially along the defensive line, slowed the pass rush. And the famed linebacking corps didn't come up with enough big plays.
Some of that blame may fall on Still and the line - at least the ones that didn't hit the injury list. One of the tackles' main tasks in the Penn State scheme is to occupy blockers so linebackers - the focal point of the defense - can make plays.
For the Outback Bowl, Still decided to change up and get more aggressive. The rising senior said he's kept the pace up in spring practice, which concludes Saturday with the annual Blue-White game.
Coaches told Still "I did a great job," the tackle said. "That, as long as I make the plays, they're willing for us to take chances."
A touted recruit out of high school in Wilmington, Del., Still has long been considered a potential breakout candidate in Happy Valley. He entered the starting lineup last season in place of Jared Odrick, the Big Ten's defensive player of the year in 2009.
Still said stopping the run has been a focus of spring ball. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson also has Still and his fellow tackles concentrating on collapsing the pocket inside in hopes of creating more havoc on the pass rush. Still's four sacks led the defense last year.
"I just want to go out there and prove to myself that I can be a dominant player," Still said. "I just hope that carries over into next season."
Keeping players healthy along the line this spring remains a problem.
End Pete Massaro, who had 3.5 sacks over 11 starts, is out for the year with a left knee injury. End Jack Crawford was still hobbling on a right foot that was injured last season, while fellow end Eric Latimore was limited after re-injuring his left wrist. As he did last season, tackle Daquan Jones has moved outside to help fill the void this spring.
Rising junior Jordan Hill seems slated to take over at the tackle spot once occupied by three-year starter Ollie Ogbu, who graduated.
The most familiar face returning up front? It's Still, back at the other tackle position again, eager to prove Big Ten naysayers wrong.