Penn State’s defense might play at a dizzying pace this Saturday against Ohio University.
Senior linebacker Michael Mauti said Tuesday that the Nittany Lions aren’t relying on one or two players to methodically guide the unit.
“The way that we do things is that everybody gets the signal and we are in a no-huddle defense,” Mauti said. “There’s not one particular play caller. It’s everybody’s responsibility to get the call and execute.”
The accelerated pace implemented by new defensive coordinator Ted Roof might be needed Saturday. The Bobcats use a spread offense, and junior quarterback Tyler Tettleton averaged 29.6 pass plays per game last season.
“Since Day 1 of camp we started preparing for it,” senior linebacker Gerald Hodges said. “Coach presented a drill. It’s called NASCAR. It’s a hurry-up type of pace. Our offense is similar. We are used to it and we have a feel for it.”
Bill O’Brien emulated former Penn State coach Joe Paterno by using flattering adjectives when describing the Nittany Lions’ opponent to reporters.
At one point during his weekly news conference Tuesday, O’Brien called the Bobcats a “fantastic” team.
Ohio went 10-4 and averaged 30.5 points per game last season. O’Brien’s messages regarding the Bobacts are resonating with defensive players.
“They are definitely our toughest opponent for the first game,” said defensive tackle Jordan Hill, who experienced openers against Division I-AA Youngstown State and Coastal Carolina the past two seasons. “Ohio has a really good quarterback. Their system is very good. It’s a fast-paced offense. They’re getting on the ball and snapping it right away.”
On the mend
O’Brien said he expects seniors Pete Massaro and Jake Fagnano to play Saturday.
Massaro, a defensive end who didn’t play last season because of a a torn ACL, has missed part of a training camp with a knee injury. He’s competing with redshirt freshman Deion Barnes for a starting job.
Mauti said rest has energized Massaro.
“He just needed a couple of days off,” Mauti said. “He’s feeling fresh. It’s not anything significant. He’s going to be fine and he can be a playmakers for us.”
Fagnano missed most of the preseason with a hamstring injury. He is competing with junior Stephen Obeng-Agyapong for the starting strong safety job.
Who’s No. 2
What’s a season-opening news conference without questions about the quarterback hierarchy?
At least the ones O’Brien fielded Tuesday weren’t about the starting job. Matt McGloin will start, but the depth chart released Monday raised questions about his backup.
Sophomore Paul Jones, who missed the past two seasons for academic reasons, and freshman Steven Bench were listed as battling for the backup job in the depth chart released Monday. O’Brien, though, temporarily awarded the job to Jones on Tuesday.
“Paul Jones is still the No. 2 quarterback,” he said. “But I will say that Steven Bench has come in and definitely closed the gap. He’s a leader. He’s a guy that is the son of a football coach in Georgia where high school football is a really big deal. He’s done a lot of good things in training camp. But at the end of the day, Paul Jones is still the No. 2 and we will go from there.”
Still in touch
Hill said he stays in touch with former roommate Silas Redd. The pair lived together before Redd, a junior who rushed for 1,200 yards in 2011, transferred to Southern California last month.
“It was weird seeing him pack up and leave, but like I have been telling everybody, he's still one of my good friends,” Hill said. “A decision he made doesn't affect our friendship. We are not teammates anymore, but we still keep in contact. He called me a couple of days ago just wondering how I was doing and how the team was.”
Redd was one of 11 players to leave Penn State after the NCAA levied sanctions against the school last month.
Finding a role
State College High School graduate Alex Kenney should receive significant playing time Saturday.
Kenney, a third-year sophomore, and Evan Lewis are competing at slot receiver. O’Brien said he will use both players against the Bobcats.
“They’ll play inside, they’ll play outside,” O’Brien said. “Both of those guys have really improved over the course of training camp.”
Kenney might also have a role in the return game, although O’Brien continues to remain coy about the Nittany Lions’ return specialists.
“Yeah, Alex will be a candidate,” O’Brien said. “You guys will see for yourself on Saturday who we will have back there. That’s something that’s ongoing.”
Guy Cipriano can be reached at 231-4643. Follow him on Twitter @cdtguy