The rest was helpful. The celebration was brief. Now Penn State’s bye week is over, and it’s back to work.
Much of the team got to head home over the weekend before returning Sunday night to prepare for Saturday’s Big Ten opener at Indiana.
Any lingering satisfaction over the NCAA’s decision to restore scholarships to the Nittany Lions has dissipated. Bill O’Brien drove that point home Tuesday by discussing the 2013 season and the Hoosiers almost exclusively at his weekly press conference.
“I think it’s positive, and it’s positive news for Penn State,” O’Brien said, noting that the response from recruits has been favorable. “Our guys feel good about it, we’re focused on Indiana.
“I wouldn’t bother asking our players about that — they won’t answer it, I promise you. Our guys are pleased with the news, but we’re focused on the Indiana game.”
With that idea firmly pounded into the players’ heads before they left campus, the coaching staff was able to dissect the team’s performance during a 3-1 start.
“Your team’s identity is pretty much formed after the first four weeks,” O’Brien said. “So you can look at things like heavy tendencies — different areas of the field or down and distances — whatever you may have tendency-wise, and try to correct those. You can look at individual players and figure out what we have to do during the bye week to try to get these guys better.
“Bye weeks are important, and I think we had a productive bye week. Again, how productive was the bye week, the proof is in the pudding on Saturday against Indiana.”
With two weeks off to rest, linebacker Mike Hull is on pace to make his first start since the season opener.
The junior linebacker has been hampered by a sprained knee suffered early in that first game and has been on the field for only a handful of drives ever since.
O’Brien said Hull is “full-go” heading into this week of practice and would be a welcome addition back to the Lions’ lineup.
“He has an impact on the defense,” O’Brien said. “He’s a good player, a tough kid, Pittsburgh kid. Was a great wrestler in high school and brings a toughness to our football team.
“You know, he got cut‑blocked against Syracuse — legally, it was a good block — and was injured on the play. He’s had a tough time coming back from it, but it looked to me as of yesterday that he was moving around better. He feels better. But he’s just a tough guy and a Penn State linebacker, that’s how you describe him, and it’s good to have him back in there.”
Hull sat out the second half of the Syracuse game as well as the next week against Eastern Michigan. He suited up to play against Central Florida in Week 3 but wasn’t 100 percent and was often replaced by Stephen Obeng-Agyapong.
He was in street clothes for the last game against Kent State, giving him some extra time to heal along with the bye week.
Though Hull will return, the Lions will be without emerging safety Ryan Keiser this weekend. Keiser injured his hand against Kent State, cutting short what had been the best game of his career.
“He could possibly be back (Oct. 12) against Michigan,” O’Brien said.
Lehman’s future uncertain
O’Brien believes tight end Matt Lehman will be back playing football next fall. The question now is whether it will be in a Penn State uniform.
The fifth-year senior suffered a serious knee injury in the opener against Syracuse, ending his season. But Penn State and Lehman are at least exploring the possibility of a medical hardship waiver that would grant him a sixth year of eligibility.
“Obviously we’re looking into it and we would love for it to work out,” O’Brien said. “I think if it doesn’t work out, he has a chance to play at the next level. At 6‑7, 260, he’s tough, he can run, catch. So one way or another he will be playing football somewhere next year.”
O’Brien said it was tough to comment on the likelihood of a sixth year because Lehman’s situation is a complicated one.
Before transferring to Penn State and walking on to the football team, he attended Shippensburg and ran track. That counts as a year of eligibility used and will likely make it harder for him to be granted an extra year.