Bill O’Brien said he and his staff handled Penn State’s second bye week differently than the first.
And that’s probably a good thing.
During that first bye week, the Nittany Lion coaches worked their players hard leading up to the Big Ten opener at Indiana. The Lions then inexplicably fell apart in the second half and were beaten by 20 points — beaten for the first time ever by the Hoosiers.
The second bye followed only three weeks later.
This one preceded the prime time matchup Saturday night at undefeated Ohio State.
It’s unusual enough that Penn State has two off-weeks during the season. That hasn’t happened since 2001. Even more unusual is how close they are to one another — that hasn’t happened since 1998.
“We planned for this before the season,” O’Brien said. “We talked about this in the summertime quite a bit, how this was going to play out, and tried to envision where our team would be after six weeks.
“The big goal of this bye week was to get our guys healthy, so we probably rested our first- and second- team guys a little bit more in this bye week and did a little bit more meeting time … to try to fix some of the things that we need to get corrected in order to get into the second half of our season.”
The extra break could be of particular help to Penn State’s linebackers, three of them who have missed substantial time or have simply played hurt: Mike Hull, Nyeem Wartman and Dallastown’s Ben Kline.
Hull, whose leg was injured in the opener, played his best so far this season in the four-overtime victory against Michigan.
Kline, meanwhile, did not play in the past two games with a bad shoulder than has been problematic since last fall, despite off-season surgery.
“I’m not going to get into the specifics of Ben Kline,” O’Brien said. “All I can tell you is that you’re talking about another tough kid, love coaching him, shows up every day, practices hard, and he’ll be out there in some capacity on Saturday night.”
The bye week gives tailback Zach Zwinak more time to work on his fumbling issues and more time for true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg to study and learn another new defense.
And maybe it’s for the best that an extra week off comes right before playing the No. 4 team in the nation, winners of 19-straight, on the road.*
The Lions also had a bye before visiting No. 1 Ohio State in 1998 — and got crushed, 28-9. They also had a bye before playing host to No. 21 Ohio State in 1994 — and ran away with one of their most dominant victories, 63-14.
Of course, that’s long-ago history to these teams.
Rather, these Lions, rested and healthier, are being presented with a wonderful opportunity as the underdog — a gaudy two-touchdown underdog. The Buckeyes haven’t lost since Urban Meyer took over as head coach.
“Penn State versus Ohio State, and you think about what that means in the history of college football … and the tradition of both schools,” O’Brien said. “Two great coaching staffs with a lot of good players on both sides of the ball.
“You know, it’s a lot of fun. Game day, that’s the best day of the week for me. We’re just really looking forward to the challenge. We know it’s a huge challenge.”