Penn State notebook: Upcoming bowl bid boosts practice time
UNIVERSITY PARK — Regardless of what bowl becomes their destination, the Nittany Lions look forward to a busy December.
The NCAA’s decision to lift Penn State’s bowl ban earlier this year created an opportunity for several weeks’ worth of extra work on the practice field. And the Nittany Lions, leaning heavily on freshmen and sophomores, welcome the chance to increase experience.
“I hope it’s fun,” redshirt sophomore linebacker Nyeem Wartman said with a sheepish grin.
The linebacker corps can use more reps as much as any unit. Sophomore Brandon Bell and freshman Jason Cabinda spent Saturday on the sideline in street clothes with injuries, so sophomore Gary Wooten made his first start of the year.
“Those practices will be valuable in terms of getting ready for our bowl opponent,” coach James Franklin said, “but also for building for our future and development. And obviously we’ll be on the road recruiting as well.”
Speaking of recruiting
Just before kickoff, Penn State picked up its third commit from a player in the Class of 2016.
Quarterback Jake Zembiec, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound junior and four-star recruit from Aquinas Institute in Rochester, N.Y, publicized his decision while attending the game.
Zembiec, who missed most of his junior season with a broken wrist, considered the Nittany Lions and Michigan State his top choices.
He joins Woodland Hills running back Miles Sanders and DeMatha Catholic (Md.) defensive end Shane Simmons.
As nods to their injured senior cohorts, senior running back Bill Belton wore running back Zach Zwinak’s No. 28 jersey, and junior cornerback Jordan Lucas wore safety Ryan Keiser’s No. 23. Belton usually wear No. 1, and Lucas wears No. 9.
Penn State became determined to establish an effective run game during the second half of its season, and succeeded to an extent, as it gained more than 150 yards against Indiana, Temple and Illinois.
Saturday’s performance represented a step back for the rushing attack.
The Nittany Lions had their fewest rush attempts of the season, 22, and their second lowest yardage total, 38.
“We tried to stick with the running game all day long and not abort it like we’ve done in the past,” Franklin said, “and we weren’t able to consistently do that.”
Good hands, big guy
Junior defensive tackle Anthony Zettel’s second-quarter interception gave him three for the season, the most by a PSU lineman in three decades.
Zettel’s latest pick was an easy pop-up that followed pressure from defensive end C.J. Olaniyan on Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook.
The announced attendance 99,902, was the lowest of Penn State’s four Big Ten home games.
Among its seven games at Beaver Stadium, only the contests against Akron (97,354) and Massachusetts (99,155) brought out lower totals.
— Bill West