Bill O’Brien admitted he isn’t very good at articulating the significance of his team’s upcoming football game in Columbus, Ohio.
But Penn State’s football coach realizes he really doesn’t have to as Nittany Lion players need little motivation to get them fired up for a showdown with the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium at 8 p.m. Saturday.
“Penn State versus Ohio State — you think about what that means and the history of college football and these two teams playing each other and the tradition of both schools,” O’Brien said at his Tuesday press conference. “Two great coaching staffs with a lot of great players on both sides of the ball. It’s a lot of fun. Game day, that’s the best day of the week for me.”
There will be plenty up for grabs on Saturday.
While the Nittany Lions (4-2, 1-1) are still ineligible to play in a bowl game or the Big Ten Championship, they can still edge the Buckeyes (7-0, 3-0) in the race for the Leaders Division title. They can also spoil the No. 4 Buckeyes’ national title hopes and snap their 19-game winning streak.
Ohio State has not lost since falling to Florida 24-17 in the Gator Bowl to conclude the 2011 season.
For Penn State players, extending their own winning streak to two games will be the focus.
“I don’t think we really think about all the outside things,” senior linebacker Glenn Carson said. “It’s just getting that win is motivation enough. We have a bunch of guys that are really competitive and every week we don’t want to lose the game. We want to win, and that’s really all the motivation we need.”
The Nittany Lions were granted some time away from their practice fields this week with no game to play last Saturday. O’Brien said he believes his players were able to benefit from added time off after playing an emotionally and physically draining four-overtime, four-hour and 11-minute game against Michigan on Oct. 12.
“I think this bye week was used a little bit differently than the first one in that the fact that the big goal of this bye week was to get our guys healthy,” O’Brien said. “So we probably rested our first- and second-team guys more this bye week and did a little bit more meeting time, a little bit more self-scout and things like that to try to fix some of the things that we need to get corrected as we get into the second half of our season.”
Among those players looking to heal up were safety Ryan Keiser and linebackers Ben Kline, Nyeem Wartman and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong.
Keiser was slowed by an injured hand against Michigan and will again relinquish holding duties on place kicks to either Adam Geiger or Alex Butterworth. Although Keiser’s hand injury will prevent him from holding, O’Brien doesn’t believe Keiser will be hampered in any other facet of the game and was declared a “full-go” to participate this week.
Meanwhile, Kline, Wartman and Obeng-Agyapong all took the week to rest sore shoulders and will all practice and play against the Buckeyes.
They’re expecting a sore welcome.
“It’s an intense place. It’s loud and the fans are crazy,” senior offensive tackle Adam Gress said. “It’s definitely a hard place to play in, but it’s also exciting. It’s just another of the big stages you get excited about when you play at this level.”
In addition to resting up, Penn State players also used Saturday to catch up on their upcoming opponents.
The Buckeyes hosted Iowa (4-3, 1-2) on Saturday and Penn State players got an early glimpse of the star power of Buckeye quarterback Braxton Miller. He kept a play alive in the fourth quarter and picked up nine yards on a third-and-seven play that set up running back Carlos Hyde’s 19-yard go-ahead touchdown run on the next play.
“You definitely take some things from the game,” sophomore cornerback Jordan Lucas said. “You might not be able to see everything but you definitely get to hear what the commentators are saying. You get to pay attention to what we might get on Saturday. So there are a lot of positives from watching the game live.”