Penn State football: Nittany Lions earn brief reprieve as second bye week unfolds

tjohnson@centredaily.comOctober 15, 2013 

UM46

Bill O'Brien claps for his team before the Mighigan game. Penn State beat Michigan 43-40 in four overtime periods in it's homecoming game, October 12, 2013, in State College, Pa.

NABIL K. MARK — CDT Photo

— Bill Belton insisted he’d get a full night’s worth of rest. DaQuan Jones admitted his body was starting to ache as a second overtime turned into a third and then a fourth at Beaver Stadium on Saturday.

Indeed, after the Big Ten’s longest game — Penn State’s 43-40 win against Michigan — Belton, Jones and Penn State’s other big-time contributors got a chance to take some time off. After their four-hour, 11-minute affair, Bill O’Brien gave his primary players most of Monday off.

The Nittany Lions still held their weekly development scrimmage — wherein younger players mix it up against one another. But players like Belton — who carried the ball a career-high 27 times — and Jones, who played the majority of defensive snaps and notched seven tackles, were allowed Monday to rest up.

“Our older guys conditioned and that was about it for them,” Bill O’Brien said. “We’ll practice today, tomorrow and probably Thursday. A four-overtime game, it was a long football game and the biggest goal for us this week is to get healthy.”

Penn State (4-2, 1-1) is idle for the second time in the last three weeks and will next play against No. 4 Ohio State (6-0, 2-0) at the Horseshoe on Oct. 26. The Buckeyes host Iowa (4-2, 1-1) on Saturday.

Plan is for Lynch to be a factor

Akeel Lynch isn’t hurt. He’s not in O’Brien’s doghouse either.

And although the redshirt freshman running back didn’t play for his second straight game, O’Brien insisted the plan was to play Lynch along with Zach Zwinak and Belton against the Wolverines. But the situation called for a different measure — a heavy dose of Belton.

“That’s a decision that I made, that’s not a reflection on Akeel Lynch,” O’Brien said. “We think the world of Akeel Lynch and we’ll continue to try to work him into the lineup.”

After Zwinak fumbled on the first play of the second half, O’Brien inserted Belton in the lineup. The junior was solid and made two of many plays of the game. He picked up a fourth-and-one in overtime that extended the game — had he not picked it up Michigan would’ve won — and sealed the win by bouncing a short run to the outside for a two-yard touchdown.

Belton has continued to be Penn State’s preferred back in passing situations and has been targeted more than Zwinak and Lynch combined on red zone passes.

“I think in the last game we had an idea going in that we were going to rotate three backs and then once we had Billy in there we felt like Billy was doing some things really well,” O’Brien said. So we didn’t really want to take Billy out.”

Question and answer

The moderator for O’Brien’s radio show that is broadcast live from Damon’s put forth a new rule last Thursday — there would be no questions about the loss to Indiana permitted.

O’Brien, upon learning that, was shocked and offered apologies to fans on Tuesday. O’Brien had not yet arrived at the restaurant when the announcement was made and said he was unsure why that was announced.

“I don’t know about that. I heard that too,” O’Brien said. “Whether that happened or not, it didn’t happen when I was there and I will tell you, any question that anybody wants to ask me they can ask me. I’m going to answer it however I feel like answering it. So I’m not sure that that happened. I’m not in charge of my radio show but if that did happen I will make sure that that doesn’t happen again.”

Since arriving in Happy Valley, O’Brien has been, for the most part, a straight-shooter with the media. Like the heavy majority of FBS coaches, O’Brien rarely comments on recruiting — most questions he’s not allowed by rule to answer — and is guarded when it comes to game plans and schemes leading up to a game.

Still, the second-year head coach has earned a reputation for being open and honest with the media for the most part. His previous boss, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, is known to be short and coy about nearly everything.

“I think everybody has to be themselves. That’s what I try to do,” O’Brien said. “I try to answer the question to the best of my ability and I try to be myself. And I think what I learned from Bill, I’ll keep between Bill and I. I observed obviously a lot of different things at New England and learned a lot of things there and contributed my share also. But I just try to answer the questions to the best of my ability and I also really respect the media.”

Redskins add Hull

Penns Valley and Penn State product Josh Hull signed with the Washington Redskins on Tuesday.

Originally drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round of the 2010 NFL Draft, Hull played three seasons with St. Louis and totaled 10 tackles in 28 games before being released in late August.

Follow Travis Johnson on Twitter @bytravisjohnson.

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