Bill Belton started each of the first five games in which he had played this season at running back. Saturday at Purdue, not only did the Penn State sophomore not start, he did not receive any of the 32 carries by Penn State running backs.
Bill O'Brien wants his players to win the starting job at practice every week.
Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien assured reporters after the game that Belton, who has been bothered by a bad ankle this season, wasn't injured, just that his players earned their Saturday playing time on the practice field during the week. During his weekly news conference on Tuesday, he went a bit deeper into that line of thinking.
"There is a reason why you practice," O'Brien said Tuesday. "You practice to compete and get ready for games, and life is about competition. We try to compete every day and we try to be as fair as we can as coaches and tell the players who are starting or who are going to play important roles, why they're playing and the other guys need to step it up and tell them why.
"Those are conversations between myself and those players but that's really the deal with us, always, will be at Penn State that we're going to practice hard and reward players that practice the right way."
O'Brien said that competition for starting jobs goes on at every position all over the field. Are players like Matt Stankiewitch, Jordan Hill, Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti, who rarely come off the field at all on game days, more likely to earn that starting nod each week? Maybe, said O'Brien, but it's no accident.
"If they're a starter, they know they have to earn it every day on the practice field," O'Brien said.
A player's involvement in that week's game plan is not only determined by how that player performs in practice but how much the coaches plan to utilize his position in that week's particular package. Senior fullback Michael Zordich, who got 11 carries against Purdue, reminded reporters that he had just one carry the previous week against home-state rival Ohio State.
"That's the way Coach O'Brien does things," Zordich said Tuesday, "and we go with it."
Notes: Reporters wanted to know about how much Hill and tight end Kyle Carter had been able to do in practice on Monday. O'Brien said both were able to do "some things" but did not elaborate. Hill, who suffered a left knee sprain in the second quarter of the Purdue game, and Carter, who suffered a left foot injury in the fourth quarter against Ohio State and did not make the trip to West Lafayette, are both officially "day-to-day" and decisions on their availability for Saturday's game against Nebraska will be made later this week, O'Brien said.