UNIVERSITY PARK Finally, Penn State football players can take a weekend during the college football season and just relax.
Most of them have already headed to their respective hometowns to watch their former high school teams compete. Today, they’ll tune in to watch their next collegiate opponents — the Iowa Hawkeyes — take on the Michigan State Spartans.
“I know I’m going to be right in front of my TV and I’m not going to switch the channel even on commercials,” senior center Matt Stankiewitch said. “I’m going to be watching that game straight through.”
It’s been awhile since Penn State players have been able to experience a low-key off weekend.
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Two seasons ago, Penn State was coming off a crushing 33-13 homecoming loss to Illinois when the Nittanty Lions entered their bye week after five games.
Last fall, the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case went nuclear with the epicenter of the blast being State College nine games into the season. Charges were filed against Sandusky and former Penn State administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz one day before Penn State players’ scheduled idle date. Former coach Joe Paterno was fired four days later in the middle of the week leading up to the Nebraska game.
This season it’s a different story.
Penn State, under the leadership of a gritty senior class and fiery head coach Bill O’Brien, is 4-2 at the midpoint having reeled off four-straight wins. A trip to Iowa City awaits on Oct. 20.
“It has been a productive bye week,” O’Brien said on Wednesday. “We have done self-scouting, in the meeting rooms as a staff. I think the kids have come out here and practiced at a good tempo the past two days and hopefully we get another good effort from them. It has been a very productive three days here.”
While O’Brien and members of his staff spent the latter portions of the week on the recruiting trail, Penn State players put in three days with them early in the week before being given the latter portion of it off.
“You want to work hard and then recuperate so this weekend we can take it easy, rest our legs, rest our bodies,” Stankiewitch said. “Maybe heal up some of those joints or some of those bumps and bruises that some fo the guys have and watch some football and get ready for our next game.”
For the Nittany Lions, who recently saw the returns of running back Bill Belton and defensive end Pete Massaro to the lineup, the bye couldn’t have come at a better time. Nebraska is also idle today, while five other Big Ten teams have already used their rest weeks.
“It’s big. Especially we are exactly like at the middle of year,” senior defensive tackle Jordan Hill said. “It’s big to get rested up and all the bumps and bruises will go away.”
O’Brien and the coaching staff will make recruiting trips throughout the weekend before returning to the Lasch Building to prepare for Iowa.
Secondary coach John Butler, who recruits southeastern Pennsylvania, plans to use his time to look for defensive backs, a position grouping the Lions happen to be short on.
“The second half each day (we’ve been) recruiting, catching up on video evaluations, catching up with high school coaches, just following up on our people that have interest in Penn State,” Butler said earlier this week. “A lot of us are going on the road Thursday and Friday to recruit and see some games. It’s good. It’s actually perfect timing, to have your bye week in week seven, you can’t have any better than that I don’t think.”