Senior linebacker Gerald Hodges has played a lot of snaps for Penn State. But until Saturday, none had been as a kickoff or punt returner.
Hodges had 12 yards on one kickoff return and minus-1 yard on two punt returns.
But when the Nittany Lions dropped back to receive the opening kickoff Saturday, the 6-foot-2, 237-pounder was back alongside Adrian Amos. Hodges ran that kick out of the end zone for a 12-yard gain, his only kickoff return of the day. He also dropped back to return punts twice, finishing with a net of minus-1 yards and a fumble, which Ohio recovered at Penn State's 13-yard line and eventually converted into three points.
Bill O'Brien's decision to put Hodges -- the first linebacker to return kicks for Penn State since Dennis Onkotz in the 1960s -- back on returns raised a lot of eyebrows, given both the player's performance and the other options the coach had at returner. Running back Bill Belton returned two kickoffs for 45 yards Saturday; Amos had one for eight yards and wide receiver Alex Kenney dropped deep though no kicks went his way.
"He had a lot of time back there and he's an excellent player," O'Brien said of Hodges. "We gave him a lot of work back there. We had four or five guys who did a lot of work back there and we chose to go with about two or three guys today, and that's what we chose to do."
Lineup rundown: The starting lineup went mostly as expected. Senior Mike Farrell got the nod at right tackle in place of Adam Gress. When Donovan Smith had to go to the sideline for several plays in the second half due to cramps, Farrell moved to left tackle and Gress came in at right tackle.
Special treatment: New placekicker Sam Ficken booted a pair of extra points and averaged 60 yards on three kickoffs. He did not attempt a field goal. Punter Alex Butterworth downed three of his five punts inside the 20 but averaged only 35.8 yards with a long of 39.
Morris, however, was diagnosed with an ankle sprain, as was Belton. Running back Derek Day suffered a cut on his head after his helmet came off during a play but was able to return to the game. Hodges had his right leg wrapped and defensive tackle Jordan Hill had his left knee wrapped.
Freshman report: Five true freshmen -- cornerback DaQuan Davis, tight end Jesse James, defensive back Jordan Lucas, linebacker Nyeem Wartman and wide receiver Trevor Williams -- burned their redshirts Saturday. Lucas saw action on Penn State's kick coverage team, not on defense. Wartman saw several snaps at middle linebacker but saved his biggest contribution for special teams, blocking a second-quarter punt to set up Penn State's second touchdown.
Name's the game: Penn State's players had their last names on the backs of their game jerseys for the first time in the history of the program. Evidently, not all of the backup jerseys have been fitted with the names yet. Defensive linemen DaQuan Jones and Sean Stanley, who both had names on their jerseys in the first half, came out for the second half with nameless jerseys.
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