Postgame Notebook: Penn State Using a Starting Linebacker to Return Kicks?

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Postgame Notebook: Penn State Using a Starting Linebacker to Return Kicks?
Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE

Penn State dropped their season opening game to the visiting Ohio Bobcats, 24-14. Here is a look through my postgame notebook from the game.

Hodges returning kicks. Huh?

Starting linebacker Gerald Hodges was used a number of times to return kickoffs and punts. Bill O'Brien said after the game that he had been working on special teams recently and said he was a good athlete so they wanted to see what he could do. Hodges fielded two punts for a loss of one yard and fumbled one to set Ohio up for a short score, and he returned a kickoff for 12 yards rather than downing it in the end zone for a touchback, which this year starts at the 25-yard line.

A linebacker returning kicks and punts does seem odd, especially for a starting linebacker with NFL potential. Hodges is a former quarterback and defensive back converted to linebacker, so his athleticism is not a question, but he has since bulked up to play linebacker. So why would Penn State consider using a linebacker in this spot?

Perhaps it is due to the thinness of the secondary and wide receiver positions that typically are used for special teams? With transfers and graduation, Penn State is raw and shallow at those positions that usually send someone to handle special teams. We will see how long Hodges is used on special teams, but look for Penn State to try and find another solution, be it using a young receiver or running back or finding other players to give it a try.

Returning kicks and punts seems like one of the easiest tasks to do for a football player to the casual fan, but it is far more complicated than it seems.

Injury Updates

Defensive back Stephon Morris and running back Bill Belton each left the game with ankle injuries. Their status for next week is currently questionable.

Running back Derek Day was forced to leave the game with a head injury after his helmet popped off and he was tackled by a couple of Ohio players. He would have had to leave the game for losing his helmet for one play anyway, under the new NCAA rules, but he needed help getting off the field. He did return to the game later.

Defensive end Pete Massaro continues to work his way back to 100 percent after missing last season with a torn ACL injury. He did not start but did see the field for Penn State. Linebacker Mike Mauti also returned to from a torn ACL, starting at outside linebacker and having a solid day. Mauti led the Nittany Lions in tackles with 12, including five solo.

Milestones

Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin moved in to a tie in the school history books with his eighth career 200-yard passing game. He joins Michael Robinson and one more will tie Todd Blackledge and Wally Richardson for fourth on the school list. Kerry Collins and Zack Mills are tied for the school record with 16 200-yard passing games in their Penn State careers.

Running back Bill Belton scored his first career touchdown.

Wide receiver Allen Robinson had a career-best nine catches for 97 yards, and a career long 21-yard reception. Shawney Kersey also had a career high with five catches. Receiver Alex Kenney and tight end Kyle Carter each caught his first career pass.

Four true freshmen played their first career games Saturday. tight end Jesse James, wide receiver Trevor Williams, linebacker Nyeem Wartman and defensive back Da'Quan Davis all saw the field. Wartman even came through with a blocked punt on special teams.

Other Notes

Penn State had an opening day attendance of 97,186 on hand for the game. That makes it two seasons in a row Penn State opened the season without at least 100,000 fans on hand. Last year Penn State had 96,461 announced for the opener versus Indiana State. The 2010 opener against Youngstown State saw 101,213 fans attend the game.

The fans that did show up were never short on support for the program of course, although the second half the crowd seemed to be as stale as the offense as the game was slipping away form the Nittany Lions. It will be interesting to see how the crowd is as the season goes along, for better or worse.

Before the football team made their entrance through the traditional tunnel formed by the Penn State Blue Band, over 600 student athletes helped form the tunnel in a massive show of support for the football players. The message clearly being that the entire Penn State family is coming together to get through the events of the past year.

A moment of silence was held to pay respects to child abuse. No mention of Joe Paterno was made before or during the game. But those who looked closely in the suites at Beaver Stadium may have noticed a cardboard cutout of Joe Paterno standing in the window, watching over the game from above. If you looked even closer you would have seen former Nittany Lions and Pittsburgh Steeler Franco Harris sitting just two seats away from the cardboard image of the former Penn State coach. A sign calling for due process for Joe Paterno was later seen in the same suite.

Names on the back of the jerseys? Nothing too fancy about them, and the response still seems to be pretty mixed. What did you think about them, now that you have seen them?

Penn State's loss to Ohio is just the second loss to a MAC opponent in school history.

Penn State's loss was their first season opening and home opening loss since 2001, when Miami spoiled the day with a 33-7 decision.

Kevin McGuire is the host of the No 2-Minute Warning podcast, managing editor of Nittany Lions Den and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow him on TwitterFacebook and Google+.

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