"None of this is ever going to tear us apart," Mauti said. "Right now we're going to put our heads down and work. That's all we can do. We're going to fight for Penn State. We're going to fight for each other. This is what Penn State is about: fighting through adversity.
"We're going to show up every Saturday and we're going to raise hell."
After an 0-2 start, that's precisely what Mauti, Zordich, Matt McGloin and their teammates have done. The Nittany Lions carry a four-game winning streak into their bye week, the end of a first half in which they showed heart and character while led by a senior class that has aided Bill O'Brien in his first year as a head coach.
They're doing so well that, after McGloin rallied Penn State from an 11-point deficit Saturday in a win over Northwestern, some national pundits mentioned O'Brien for Big Ten coach of the year, and even national coach of the year.
"Ah," O'Brien said Tuesday. "We're 4-2 and we have murderers row coming up here, starting [Oct. 20] with Iowa. There's a lot of great coaches in this country and I've only coached six games my whole career. So that's the farthest thing from my mind."
If he were to pick up some postseason hardware, O'Brien could split it among the seniors, who evidently are playing every game as if it's their last as their college careers wind down.
"There are plenty of things that motivate us," Mauti said last week. "We've only got a certain number of big games left. It all kind of goes back to the summer. We really enjoy playing for this coaching staff. We've been playing for each other. It's generally getting back to the basics and enjoying playing football."
All but one senior (wide receiver Justin Brown to Oklahoma) elected to stay with the program after the sanctions. There is strong leadership all over the field, from Mauti and Gerald Hodges at linebacker to Jordan Hill and Pete Massaro on the defensive line to Stephon Morris in the secondary to Matt Stankiewitch on the offensive line to Zordich in the backfield and to McGloin at quarterback.
"It's this whole group of guys and how hard they play," O'Brien said. "I've gotten a lot of phone calls from non-Penn State people telling me how much they enjoy watching this team play.
"Look, I don't know what's going to happen this year. I'm not a genie. But people enjoy watching this team play because of the effort with which they play. They play like their hair is on fire every play. That's a bunch of great kids that love to play football, love to practice, love to go to school at Penn State, and play extremely hard."
Mauti, who leads the team in tackles, had the Lions' signature game on defense thus far, forcing a fumble and intercepting two passes against Illinois. That's three of the 12 turnovers forced by Penn State, which has a plus-7 turnover ratio, best in the Big Ten.
Offensively, McGloin has been a revelation. The much-maligned fifth-year senior is making sound decisions in O'Brien's NFL-style offense while still showing his fire and competitive nature. He has thrown 12 touchdown passes and scored five TDs on the ground.
He credits O'Brien and quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher for his improvement.
"I'm kind of keeping my poise throughout the whole game, staying relaxed," McGloin said. "Coach Fisher has helped me out with the mental game. My mechanics are a lot better. I'm better with my reads. . . . But we have a long way to go."
McGloin has a reliable target in sophomore Allen Robinson, one of the top receivers in the Big Ten, and a running threat in sophomore Zach Zwinak, who has rushed for 315 yards the last three weeks. The offensive line is growing in cohesion and confidence.
Robinson and Zwinak are two of the Lions' rising stars from the underclass ranks, along with offensive linemen Donovan Smith and Miles Dieffenbach, tight end Kyle Carter, defensive linemen Deion Barnes and DaQuan Jones, linebacker Mike Hull and cornerback/safety Adrian Amos.
Two concerns for the Nittany Lions once they resume play are their unreliable kicking game and a significantly tougher schedule.
Sophomore Sam Ficken is 3 of 9 on field-goal attempts, including four misses at Virginia when one more field goal could have notched a victory. Junior Alex Butterworth averages just 36.5 yards per punt, and the team's net punting is the worst in the Big Ten. The Lions are 108th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in kickoff returns, but O'Brien said the unit "is pretty close to doing something pretty good."
"I think we've got to be careful when we say our special teams haven't played well," the coach said. "I think our specialists need to play better. I think overall, our kids on special teams have done some good things."
The second-half schedule begins with three road games in the first four weeks. The only home game during that stretch is the eagerly anticipated matchup with Ohio State. The race for the Big Ten Leaders Division championship is wide open, but O'Brien needs to see daily improvement to reach that goal.
"We've got a long way to go," he said. "We're 4-2 and we've got the meat of our schedule right here. So this is going to be a very, very tough stretch for us."
Contact Joe Juliano at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @joejulesinq on Twitter. Read his blog, "Lion Eyes," at www.philly.com/philly/blogs/inq-pennstate