UNIVERSITY PARK — Tight end Jesse James met with reporters following this past Saturday’s 24-21 victory over Wisconsin for the first time since arriving at Penn State.
His answers were predictable. The gigantic freshman appreciated the experience he received this season.
Coach Bill O’Brien’s media embargo on true freshmen was lifted because James’ sophomore football season officially started when Penn State’s finale concluded. James is also close to being a sophomore in academic standing. He enrolled last January.
His first football season represented a major success. He learned the ‘Y’ and ‘F’ tight end positions, two of the most difficult spots to play in O’Brien’s offense, fast enough to earn regular minutes, especially after Kyle Carter suffered a season-ending foot injury in Week 8 against Ohio State.
James caught nine passes for 202 yards in the final four games. He grabbed three passes for 90 yards, including a 41-yard touchdown reception, against Wisconsin. He ended the year as Penn State’s fourth-leading receiver behind Allen Robinson, Carter and Brandon Moseby-Felder. James caught 14 passes for 264 yards. His five touchdown receptions ranked second on the team behind Robinson’s 10.
“The season went well,” James said. “I like my role. I started off a little bit slow and worked my way up. It was worth every single minute of it.”
The 6-foot-7, 274-pound James started the final two games. James and wide receiver Trevor Williams were the only true freshmen to receive starts this season.
“There’s another guy that’s a tremendously improved player for us and has a really bright future,” O’Brien said of James.
Penn State’s tight ends had a big season. The quartet of James, Carter, Matt Lehman and Garry Gilliam combined to catch 82 passes for 1,020 yards and 10 touchdowns. No member of the quartet caught a pass in 2011.
Explanation, please?O’Brien’s sideline expressions suggest he’s far from enthused with the quality of Big Ten officiating. His carefully-selected words are beginning to match his actions.
Early in the third quarter against Wisconsin, a video review led to a flipped call on Matt McGloin’s pass to Moseby-Felder in the back of the end zone. The play was declared a touchdown on the field before being overturned.
O’Brien aggressively pleaded with referee Dave Witvoet to explain the communication between the replay and on-field officials. O’Brien said he never received one. The Nittany Lions settled for a field goal on the drive.
“I want to know what was said from upstairs to downstairs,” O’Brien said. “I want to know what that conversation entails. I have a right to know as the head football coach what that conversation was about and that’s what I was asking.”
The call wasn’t the first scrutinized replay following a potential Penn State touchdown. Tight end Matt Lehman was involved in a controversial play involving a goal-line fumble earlier this month at Nebraska. The play was ruled a fumble on the field, and in the video booth despite a sideline angle that showed the tip of the ball crossing the goal line, the call was not overturned.
Captain Clark makes an appearanceFormer Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark attended Saturday’s Senior Day ceremonies, greeting former teammates before and after the game. Clark was the Nittany Lions’ starting quarterback from 2008-09.
“I’m proud of this senior class for what they have done this entire year,” Clark said. “Given the circumstances they have been placed in, they fought hard. Even what everyone did to them, they kept the team together. It’s only right that we send them out the best way we can.”
Clark, who recently accepted a Pittsburgh-based management position with the car rental chain Enterprise, said he’s confident Penn State’s football program remains in good shape.
“They are in good hands,” he said. “I know the seniors have been grooming some of the sophomores and juniors to be great seniors and captains. They will be ready to lead.”
He likes the moveLinebackers coach Ron Vanderliden has a personal connection to one of the Big Ten’s two additions. He worked as Maryland’s head coach from 1997-2000.
Vanderlinden said he can understand Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany’s reasoning for adding Maryland and Rutgers.
“I think from a geographical standpoint and the number of televisions in Maryland, Baltimore, North Virginia, then also Rutgers with Jersey and New York, I think it’s a very logical selection,” he said.
Vanderlinden said it’s too early to determine what impact the moves will have on Penn State’s recruiting efforts.
Follow Guy Cipriano on Twitter @cdtguy.