Penn State football notebook: Empty campus helps Nittany Lions focus on Wisconsin game
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Guard Miles Dieffenbach called Penn State's barren campus “The Frozen Tundra.”
On Twitter, linebacker Brandon Bell compared it to the barren afterworld of the Will Smith movie “I Am Legend.”
Fittingly, apocalypse-based video games and a team trip to the theater to see “Thor: The Dark World” were among the primary devices the Nittany Lions used to pass time early during a week in which they are among the few students remaining on campus.
“It's actually nice,” linebacker Mike Hull said. “You're just with your teammates the whole week just kind of hanging out, playing video games whenever you're not at practice.
“Get a little team bonding going. So it's fun. It's more laid back and relaxing whenever you don't have to worry about class and being all over campus.”
While multiple Big Ten coaches Tuesday expressed disdain for the conference's recent practice of extending its season past Thanksgiving, spending the holiday week together drew positive reviews from Penn State's players.
In advance of their final game of the season Saturday at No. 14 Wisconsin (9-2, 6-1), the Lions (6-5, 3-4) have a modified preparation schedule: a walkthrough Monday followed by Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon practices and a Thursday morning practice in advance of a team Thanksgiving meal at one of the bigger dining halls on campus.
Coach Bill O'Brien, who said that dinner last season was “fantastic,” insisted focus will not be an issue in advance of playing the Badgers.
“It's good to be able to get everyone focused on football for a week,” tight end Jesse James said. “There's not much going on academically, so we'll have a little extra time watching tape to prepare for the week. The only bad part is being away from family.”
Running backs probable
O'Brien said it “looks like” both of his top running backs, Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak, will play Saturday.
“We'll see throughout the week,” O'Brien said.
Belton missed this past Saturday's game because of a shoulder injury and a case of strep throat. Zwinak was “banged around pretty good” in having 35 carries in a loss to Nebraska.
Belton and Zwinak rank eighth and ninth in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game.
Although NCAA rules prevent him from talking about specific players, O'Brien said “we feel good about the '14 class.”
Likely at the behest of O'Brien, players often are reluctant to talk about incoming recruits. But defensive lineman C.J. Olaniyan acknowledged Tuesday they do try to follow the process.
“We talk about it,” said Olaniyan, whose position received an upgrade with the verbal commitment of 6-3, 285-pound junior-college transfer Tarow Barney earlier this week.
“We're a family here, so we want family guys to come here. So I do try to once in a while pay attention, and when we do have recruits come to visit, try to let them know that this is a family atmosphere.”
O'Brien revealed that cornerback Adrian Amos has a foot sprain, “but he seems to be moving around better and better every day.” … Freshman Von Walker, who has averaged a kick or punt return per game, missed the contest against Nebraska because of a concussion. O'Brien said, “He should be fine now.” … O'Brien said the kickoff coverage team will have “maybe one or two changes” in its personnel after allowing a touchdown during each of the past two games. … Wisconsin receiver Jared Abbrederis was named one of three finalists for the Burlsworth Trophy on Tuesday. The award, given to the nation's most outstanding player who began his career as a walk-on, was won last season by Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin.
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