Penn State is hopeful to add two injured giants back into fold.
The Nittany Lions were without starting left tackle Ryan Bates and defensive end Ryan Buchholz on Saturday in East Lansing. The former had his leg rolled up on and the latter was carted off at Ohio State. Neither Bates nor Buchholz was listed on this week’s depth chart, with Will Fries and Kevin Givens listed as starters at left tackle and defensive end, respectively.
But Franklin said at his Tuesday press conference that he’s hoping to have Buchholz back “sooner rather than later,” and offensive lineman Steven Gonzalez noted that Bates is “doing what he has to do to get back as fast as he can.”
If either or both of them play on Saturday, it’ll be a big-time boost to Penn State’s efforts in the trenches, which have been lacking in recent weeks.
Bates has been referred to as the “emotional leader” of the offensive line — and while Fries played admirably in his absence. Chasz Wright’s been iffy at right tackle.
On the other side of the ball, Shareef Miller played 63 out of 80 snaps on Saturday and 62 out of 78 at Ohio State, according to 247 Sports. The pass rusher looked worn out, as did the entire front-four in back-to-back weeks.
“I think our model has been at its best when we’re able to rotate those guys and keep them fresh,” Franklin said. “If you’re playing 65 plays, you have a chance of spraining an ankle or pulling a muscle or whatever it may be. ... So now you’ve got a guy who’s nicked up and playing 25 more plays than probably he should be. All of those things factor in, there’s no doubt about it. That’s why getting some of these guys back would be really helpful for us.”
On fourth-and-3 from Michigan State’s 31-yard line in a 24-24 game with four minutes to go, the Nittany Lions went for it — and by all accounts, should’ve had the first down. Trace McSorley’s quick slant throw to DeAndre Thompkins was a touch high but went through his hands and landed incomplete.
Thompkins figuratively raised his hand and took the blame.
“To be honest with you, yeah, that’s one of those passes as a receiver you have to catch,” the redshirt junior said Tuesday. “It is what it is. I’ve watched the film, and that’s just a mistake as a receiver. You have to catch the ball.”
Thompkins added that his teammates have been supportive over the past couple of days, namely DaeSean Hamilton, who had his own drop issues to work through last season.
Hamilton — who let a sure-fire touchdown slip through his hands at Pitt — rebounded just fine this year, leading the team in receiving yards and touchdowns.
“He kind of reminded me of the type of situation he was in,” Thompkins said. “And I look up to him. He’s like my big brother. So that’s one thing that I took into account. I watched the play. It happened, and I’m on to the next week.”
Franklin said after the Nittany Lions’ three-point loss at Michigan State that his team was “too finesse” and had to become more “hard-nosed.”
A few days after that statement, the coach admitted that creating better space on the offensive line and being more physical defensively wouldn’t happen overnight. It’s a long-term priority for the program to correct a long-term existing problem.
“These things aren’t just showing their ugly heads after the last two games,” Franklin said. “We’ve been talking about these same issues after wins, as well. But we’ve been able to make up for some of those things with explosive plays or leading the country in turnover ratio. ... The best programs in the country have areas of need or areas that they need to improve. And we’re no different than them.”
Added Gonzalez: “At the end of the day it just comes down to the grit and physicality of the game and that’s what us as an offensive line we pride ourselves on.”
Missing: Tommy Stevens
Even though he hasn’t seen the field recently, Tommy Stevens isn’t being ignored or pushed from Penn State’s game-plan.
Stevens, McSorley’s backup, has been involved this season in an interesting two-quarterback package. Within this extension of the offense, Stevens has six catches for 35 yards and two touchdowns.
The package provides a level of intrigue and different spark for the Nittany Lion offense, especially in the red zone. But both the package and Stevens didn’t see the field against Ohio State or Michigan State.
Following the losses, fans questioned why. Franklin offered an answer.
“I think almost every week except for one we had that package as a part of the game-plan,” Franklin said. “Tommy’s been great from a preparation standpoint. More times than not we’ve had that package. Now it just comes down to when we’re calling, does the situation warrant it, and does it make sense?”