UNIVERSITY PARK — The most heralded member of Penn State’s 2012 recruiting class holds a prominent role this week.
No, Eugene Lewis isn’t abandoning a redshirt season to face Ohio State on Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
Instead, Lewis is emulating Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes’ electric dual-threat quarterback.
Teammates said slowing the 6-foot-1, 199-pound Lewis represents a tricky endeavor. Lewis, after all, played quarterback his senior year at District 2 Wyoming Valley West and eclipsed 1,000 rushing and passing yards. Rivals.com ranked Lewis as the Big Ten’s 15th best incoming freshmen, the highest rating among Penn State recruits.
The previous coaching staff recruited Lewis as a wide receiver. The current staff hasn’t fiddled with his position. Unless Steven Bench and Christian Hackenberg sustain major injuries, Lewis should become one of Penn State’s top targets beginning next season.
“He’s going to be a great addition to this team, making plays for the next couple of years,” linebacker Michael Mauti said Tuesday. “He makes some catches that are pretty outstanding and he’s definitely going to be a guy to look out for these next couple of years. He’s very talented. When he gets his opportunity, he’s going to make the most out of it.”
Until then, Lewis will prepare older teammates for shifty quarterbacks such as Miller and Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez. Miller’s 959 rushing yards leads Big Ten quarterbacks this season, although Michigan’s Denard Robinson has played one fewer game. Penn State doesn’t meet Robinson, whose 4,129 career rushing yards represents a conference record by a quarterback, and Michigan this season.
Miller averages 6.8 yards per run. The sophomore broke a 72-yarder earlier this month against Nebraska. Miller returned to practice Tuesday after being slammed to the turf in the third quarter of last Saturday’s 29-22 victory over Purdue.
“There’s not much to compare to him,” defensive tackle Jordan Hill said. “He’s another running quarterback. He’s definitely a special player. We have Eugene Lewis running this week at practice. He’s doing a real good job.”
Penn State has faced multiple dual-three quarterbacks this season, including Northwestern’s Kain Colter and Illinois’ Nathan Scheelhaase. Coach Bill O’Brien said none are better than Miller.
“He’s the best,” O’Brien said. “With all due respect to all the others because there’s some good ones out there, but this guy’s an excellent player And the thing about him is that he throws the ball well, too.”
Keeping him in reserve
Holding a 38-0 lead in last Saturday’s fourth quarter at Iowa, O’Brien elected against replacing Matt McGloin with the true freshman Bench. O’Brien admitted Tuesday that “maybe I could have gotten Steven in.”
“But I think Steven realizes that we’re trying to win the football game,” O’Brien added. “I was doing what’s best for the football team at that point in time. So I stuck with Matt throughout the whole game. And if we have a chance to put Steven in at some point during the year, then we’ll do it.”
Bench hasn’t played since McGloin suffered a hand injury in the first half of a Sept. 8 loss at Virginia. McGloin returned and played the entire second half.
Not a fan
O’Brien turned 43 on Tuesday. He said the occasion means little to him.
“I’m not a big birthday guy,” he said. “My wife will list all the things I don’t really enjoy. Birthdays, weddings, theme parks, the beach. I found out it was my birthday when my older brother texted me. That’s when I figured it was my birthday. There’s no special plans.”
A Penn State spokesman said 600 tickets remained for Saturday’s game as of Tuesday afternoon. ... O’Brien said true freshman linebacker Nyeem Wartman has returned to practice. Wartman suffered a knee injury last month at Virginia.
Follow Guy Cipriano on Twitter @cdtguy.