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Lions hope to be healthy for Saturday

February 16. 2013 9:59PM

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Stephon Morris had to be carted off. Bill Belton was on crutches. As if the loss wasn't tough enough to deal with on Saturday, the Nittany Lions had to deal with losing two key starters to injury.

Bill O'Brien is optimistic that both his starting tailback and his senior cornerback will both be ready to go this Saturday against Virginia.

"Those guys are day-to-day," the Penn State coach said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. "They're both ankle issues and they're not serious."

Penn State listed both players as "possible" in the weekly game notes, but O'Brien said they were "probable" to be ready for the noon kickoff in Charlottesville, adding that he won't know for sure until he sees what they can do in practice on Thursday.

If Belton is unavailable, senior Derek Day would likely get the start and the Lions would use a committee approach to the run game. That might include using true freshman Akeel Lynch, who did not play in the opener.

Morris was replaced in the lineup on Saturday by another rookie in Da'Quan Davis.

O'Brien said he would prefer to get a better balance on offense against the Cavaliers after throwing the ball 48 times in the loss to Ohio.

He is also reconsidering his decision to use linebacker Gerald Hodges as a kick and punt returner, conceding that he was probably asking the senior to do too much.

"Yeah, probably. Probably right," O'Brien said. "We put him back there, and the reason why -- he did an excellent job in practice. He's an excellent athlete, and he caught every one of them in practice.

"But it's a lot on his plate, and his main role is obviously as our outside linebacker.  He might or might not be back there this week, but there was a lot on his plate, and I'll tell you, I accept responsibility for that. But we'll move forward and we'll find some guys that can return some punts."

Hodges handled three returns in the opener but did not return to the role after fumbling the last of those attempts.

For more from O'Brien's press conference as well as updates from Virginia, check back to and see Wednesday's edition of The Times Leader.

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