Jesse James spent an ample amount of time in Penn State’s weight room this summer for a few reasons.
First, the already-massive, 6-foot-7 tight end wanted to add bulk to improve his stock as a blocker in the Nittany Lions’ offense. He also wanted to be able to inflict equal or more amounts of punishment to defenders who would undoubtedly try to blast him over the middle and shoulder him to the ground once the season began.
It didn’t take long for the latter to happen. After all, James is a big target.
James was the recipient of a few heavy hits during Penn State’s 26-24 win over UCF on Saturday. After a 22-yard gain up the seam, James took a helmet to the chest from Clayton Geathers in the second quarter. Later in the third, James caught a pass in the flat and was ridden to the ground by defensive back Brandon Alexander. James went down hard on his right shoulder absorbing the weight of Alexander before getting up and heading to the sideline.
He finished the game with seven catches for 60 yards and strolled through the Croke Park hallways toward Penn State’s bus with a large bag of ice wrapping his shoulder. On Tuesday, James shrugged off the hits with a grin.
“I’m 270 pounds for a reason,” James said. “I can take those kind of hits.”
His return to the game suggested as much. Although he returned with his shoulder wrapped, James appeared to be fine upon re-entering the game. He was able to block despite being targeted just once more.
“I thought Jesse played extremely well, made some big plays for us, made some big blocks for us, was a tremendous presence in there on the field,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “I think opportunities and things like that really just come down to what the defense is giving you. We had opportunities; they were playing soft coverage on the outside so we took advantage of that and then when they pressed us, we took some shots up the field. When Jesse was in option, he got the ball, as well, and it really just comes down to that.”
As it turns out, defensive coordinator Bob Shoop had to wait to call his own defense on Saturday.
Penn State had no power to its headsets during the first quarter of the Croke Park Classic and the Nittany Lions deferred after winning the toss, starting on defense. As Shoop — who coaches from the box — raced down to the sideline with offensive coordinator John Donovan in tow, linebackers coach Brent Pry took hold of the situation.
The Nittany Lions didn’t miss a beat despite the technological difficulties. UCF ran a total of three plays for minus-three yards on its first drive.
“I think Coach Shoop and all the other coaches did a really good job,” Hull said. “They did a great job in the offseason stressing communication so when we went out there, it was just like practice. I’m not surprised it went as well as it did just because how much emphasis they put on the little details in the offseason.
Communication was so smooth that Hull said players had no idea the headsets weren’t working.
“We didn’t really know that that was going on until after the first series,” Hull said.
But for Penn State’s coaching staff, the power loss was a “huge challenge,” head coach James Franklin said.
“The way the rules are set, if your headsets are out, the other (team’s) headsets are supposed to come off,” Franklin said. “For us, in that game specifically, it created some real challenges. John Donovan sprinted down to the sideline and called the game from the sideline. Defensively, Brent Pry was able to step in there for a short period of time. Luckily, our offense was able to move the ball and eat up some of the clock. But it created some real challenges for us, the way we break up an the way we communicate with having coaches in the booth and coaches on the sideline so they’re able to view and know what’s going on. But the power was completely out.”
Penn State will honor the unbeaten 1994 team on Saturday.
The last Nittany Lion squad to go undefeated, the 1994 team — which finished No. 2 in both the final Associated Press and Coaches Poll — is still regarded as one of the greatest offenses college football has ever seen. Penn State scored 564 points and averaged 47 points per game. Meanwhile, the ‘94 squad boasted five first-team All-Americans — quarterback Kerry Collins, running back Ki-Jana Carter, receiver Bobby Engram, tight end Kyle Brady and guard Jeff Hartings.
Penn State was the first 12-0 Big Ten team and defeated Oregon 38-20 in the Rose Bowl. And although the Nittany Lions finished the season ranked No. 2 to Nebraska, Franklin bestowed a title on the ‘94 Nittany Lions that the rest of the college football world did not, calling them the National Champions on Tuesday.
“Really excited about being able to honor the 1994 undefeated national championship team,” Franklin said. “And the five first-team All-Americans that will be here. Really, really excited about those guys coming back, so I think that’s going to be great.”
In an ongoing effort to fill seats at Beaver Stadium, Penn State announced a special ticket deal for Penn State students looking to attend Saturday’s noon game against Akron.
With a valid student ID, students can purchase two tickets for 40 dollars each. The Bryce Jordan Center ticket office is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Students can also purchase tickets at the Beaver Stadium ticket office near Gate E from 8 a.m. until kickoff.
The seats will not be located in the student section, as tickets for the 21,000-seat section are sold out.
Before the start of the season, Christian Hackeberg’s odds to win the Heisman Trophy were set at 50/1 by Bovada.
Hackenberg’s odds to win college football’s most prestigious individual honor have gone up considerably.
Following the Penn State quarterback’s strong-armed performance against UCF in which he completed 32 of 47 passes for a school-record 454 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, Hackenberg’s odds to win the Heisman went up to 25/1.
Six other quarterbacks currently have higher odds — Jameis Winston of Florida State and Marcus Mariota of Oregon are both 11/2 odds. UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley and Baylor’s Bryce Petty are both 12/1 odds while Auburn’s Nick Marshall odds to win the Heisman are 14/1. Kenny Hill of Texas A&M and Everett Golson of Notre Dame are 16/1 and 20/1 odds, respectively. Michigan State’s Connor Cook is also at 25/1 odds.