They’re not too banged up. They gained back a bit of momentum Saturday. The Big Ten season awaits.
For the Bill O’Brien and the Nittany Lions, it sounds like a good spot for an open date. Penn State will be off next weekend before returning to the field at Indiana for the conference opener on Oct. 5.
“We’re 3-1 and we’re happy to be 3-1,” O’Brien said after the Lions smacked Kent State 34-0 on Saturday. “Would we love to be 4-0? Of course we would. But 3-1 is better than 2-2. We feel decent about where we’re at.
“We have a bye week for a few things. We can get healed up and we can also self-scout and just try to improve as a football team. I think it comes at the right time for us, four games in. Hopefully it will help us.”
Because of how the calendar falls this year, Penn State will actually have two open dates. The Lions will also be off on Oct. 19, giving them a break in between games against Michigan and Ohio State.
After taking Sunday off as always, the Lions will be back at practice Monday and work at least through Thursday.
“We’ll think about giving them Friday off,” O’Brien said. “They have to go to class, obviously, on Friday. Maybe they can go home, if they can, for the weekend and be back Sunday for dinner and get ready to go.”
O’Brien and his coaching staff classify true freshmen as “green light” (ready to play), “yellow light” (wait and see) and “red light” (definitely redshirting).
Now four weeks into the season, the staff will be trying to finalize decisions on some of those yellow lights.
Through four games, the Lions have played nine true freshmen, and there may not be any more, barring injuries.
Quarterback Christian Hackenberg has been joined by receiver Richy Anderson and tight end Adam Breneman on offense.
“Right now I don’t see any other freshmen at this point on offense playing,” O’Brien said. “On defense, when you look at the defensive line, right now I wouldn’t see any true freshmen that would play right now.”
Linebacker Brandon Bell and cornerback Jordan Smith both made cameos on defense against Eastern Michigan and Kent State. Cornerback Anthony Smith saw the field against Eastern.
“I think at linebacker, obviously we’ve played Brandon Bell and we’ll continue to try to involve him in special teams and things like that,” O’Brien said. “In the secondary we’ve played Jordan Smith, Anthony Smith. Those guys will continue to play.
“Other than that, I don’t see any other freshmen playing on that side of the ball.”
Walk-ons Von Walker, Gregg Garrity and Cole Chiappialle have all appeared on special teams. Walker has also served as the fourth-string tailback, getting four carries late in Saturday’s win.
Defensive end Garrett Sickels had initially appeared on an early participation report but that has since been corrected. Sickels’ redshirt remains intact.
Sickels is one of the highest-rated recruits from the 2013 signing class who looks headed for a redshirt. Tackle Andrew Nelson impressed coaches in training camp, seeing some reps with the second-team line, but an injury may have tipped the scales toward a redshirt for him.
Lions improve on third down
For one week, at least, O’Brien didn’t have to answer the question.
In the first month of the season, the coach had been questioned frequently about his offense’s puzzling woes on third downs. After a tough loss to Central Florida a week ago that left the Lions ranked 122nd out of 123 teams in the category, he rubbed his temples with his hands, growing tired of hearing about it.
It didn’t come up Saturday.
Penn State went 7-for-18 on third downs in a 34-0 win over Kent State. In the first half alone, the Lions had four conversions, matching their total from the first three games combined.
In his fifth and final season at Penn State, West Scranton’s Eric Shrive got an honor he’d been waiting for.
Shrive was one of the Lions’ three game captains out for the coin flip on Saturday against Kent State. He was joined by fellow seniors Brandon Felder and Alex Butterworth.
“It was a great feeling to go out there and be a captain,” Shrive said. “It was a good feeling to go out there after all these years.”
As was the case last season, O’Brien is going with individual captains for the first 11 games of the season, allowing every senior on the roster to serve as a captain at least once. Before the season finale against Wisconsin, full-season captains will be announced.
Shrive has been on the second-team offensive line this season, occasionally seeing some first-team snaps at guard. He played at right guard in the second half Saturday.