UNIVERSITY PARK — The air is getting colder and the days are getting shorter.
At this time of the year, as college football teams work into the final quarters of their regular seasons, injuries are mounting. The wear and tear through nine games can take a toll.
Penn State already lists five players out for the remainder of the season with linebacker Ben Kline being added to that group following a pectoral injury against Minnesota on Saturday.
Countless others are dinged up but playing through their ailments. But coach Bill O’Brien is always looking for ways to keep his roster — limited in its number of scholarship players — as fresh as possible.
“The way that we’ve practiced I think has been good,” O’Brien said. “I think that’s another offseason study to give you a better, more specific answer on that. But I do still see a lot of juice with DaQuan Jones or John Urschel. I see these guys that have played a ton of snaps for us and there are other guys. I still see a lot of energy.”
Still, O’Brien said the team will shorten its practices by about 30 minutes although workouts will occur at a quicker pace. He expects practices to end around 6 p.m. as the next few weeks unfold.
“(We’ll) get them back, get them something to eat and get them studying again,” O’Brien said. “So that’s something that we’re going to continue to look at and strategize about.”
Although practices will be shortened overall, linebacker Mike Hull doesn’t expect there to be a drop-off in the team’s intensity.
“They’re definitely spirited,” Hull said. “There’s still a lot of intensity. Everyone’s trying to get better every single day. It’s real competitive in practice every single day.”
Penn State practices have been closed to reporters all season.
Players must perform more maintenance on themselves this time of year, sophomore cornerback Jordan Lucas said.
Visits to the training room become more routine for some players. Ice baths and hot tub sessions are valuable resources players utilize should they require them.
Lucas said he uses the water therapy daily to take care of his legs.
“You can get through a lot of things mentally,” Lucas said. “Of course you’re not the same as you were coming into the season. But that’s a part of the game.”
Expectations still high
Penn State hasn’t won back-to-back games since the first two weeks of the season.
But Nittany Lion players believe they can win three-straight to finish on a high note. At this point, an 8-4 mark, the same mark as last season’s squad, is still within reach.
Hull put it bluntly when asked about the alternative — a .500 finish.
“It would be a disappointment because we have three games left and everyone in the locker room expects us to win all three games,” Hull said. “It’s not going to be easy, but we have to step up.”
Purdue (1-8, 0-5) is the only remaining opponent on Penn State’s schedule without a winning record. The Boilermakers visit Beaver Stadium on Saturday for a noon kickoff.
A Penn State win guarantees that the Nittany Lions finish no worse than .500, a threshold Penn State has surpassed every year since its last losing season in 2004.
“We’ve had an alright season. That’s how I’d put it,” Hull said. “We lost to some tough teams. We lost to some teams that we could’ve beat, which is tough. But the season’s not over. We’re still pushing forward and these next three games are real crucial and we’ve got to just buckle down and get the wins where we need them.”
RB Lynch returns to practice
Penn State got a boost on the injury front as redshirt freshman running back Akeel Lynch returned to practice on Monday.
O’Brien said last week that Lynch would be monitored and could possibly play against Minnesota. Lynch dressed for the game but did not see action as he was limited through the previous week with an sprained MCL. He could be available against Purdue on Saturday.
Lynch had breakout games early in the season against non-conference opponents Eastern Michigan and Kent State. In those games, Lynch rushed for a combined 231 yards on just 27 carries, for a nearly nine-yard-per-carry average, and a touchdown. Since then he’s missed two games and carried the ball 14 times for 42 yards.
The combined effectiveness of juniors Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak, who are averaging 19 and 16 touches per game, respectively, have made it tough for Lynch to get on the field. Belton is averaging five yards per carry while Zwinak is picking up 4 1/2 yards each time he carries the ball. Belton and Zwinak have combined for 15 of the team’s 30 touchdowns.
Lewis looking to earn more playing time
Redshirt freshman Geno Lewis is in a similar position as Lynch.
He showed a glimpse of the player Penn State will be able to utilize in its offense in the season opener against Syracuse. That day, Lewis hauled in a 54-yard touchdown pass from Christian Hackenberg to help seal Penn State’s 23-17 win.
Since then, Lewis has been kept off the scoresheet five times and has hauled in just nine passes for 53 yards.
He’s done most of his work on special teams. As one of the team’s primary deep men on kickoff return, Lewis has 16 returns for 353 yards so far. He will likely be counted on more heavily in the offensive game plan this weekend with Allen Robinson nursing a sore shoulder.
“Geno’s practiced hard and he has a lot of ability. Again, he’s only a redshirt freshman, so he’s got three years left here,” O’Briens aid. “I think everybody expects redshirt freshmen to jump in and start and play right away and in some cases it’s hard to do that. ... I would expect Geno to play more on Saturday.”
McGloin could see more time due to Pryor injury
Eric Shrive was a high school teammate of former Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin at West Scranton High. Shrive said he talks to McGloin, now with the Oakland Raiders, “quite a bit.”
“He’s doing great in Oakland and taking advantage of the opportunity that’s been given to him and that’s a lot of credit to Matt and the work that he’s done,” Shrive said. “I became a Raiders fan hoping that he gets in the game.”
McGloin played in the Raiders’ Week 9 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles and completed seven of 15 passes for 87 yards playing in place of an injured Terrelle Pryor. Pryor returned for Oakland’s Week 10 loss against the New York Giants after practicing fully in the days leading up to the game, according to the team’s Week 10 injury report.
The Raiders will release their injury report on Wednesday. Pryor’s status moving forward is questionable as Oakland coach Dennis Allen told reporters Pryor’s sprained MCL gave him problems in the loss to the Giants.
Weaver announces retirement from Virginia Tech
Jim Weaver wanted to stick around at Virginia Tech for a little while longer but health issues, including Parkinson’s Disease and numerous back surgeries, have forced the Hokies’ athletic director to retire, Weaver told the Associated Press on Tuesday.
He was a center and linebacker at Penn State, where he lettered under Joe Paterno in 1966.
Weaver, 68, had planned to stay at Virginia Tech until his contract ran out in December 2015. Instead he announced that his resignation will take effect on Dec. 31.
One of Weaver’s final acts was to schedule the first-ever on-field meetings between Virginia Tech and Penn State. Penn State will visit Blacksburg on September 17, 2022, and Virginia Tech will travel to Beaver Stadium on Sept. 16, 2023.