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This is your Penn State Wake-Up Call for Wednesday, Oct. 5. Let’s get started.
Blacknall, Smith to return vs. Terps
Penn State coach James Franklin, normally evasive about injuries, departed slightly from the norm during his regular weekly news conference Tuesday.
Franklin said wide receiver Saeed Blacknall, who has not played since the season opener against Kent State because of an undisclosed hand injury, will return for Saturday’s homecoming game against 4-0 Maryland, a noon ET kick on the Big Ten Network.
Middle linebacker Brandon Smith will also return, Franklin said, after departing last week’s victory over Minnesota with an undisclosed injury.
Jason Cabinda, the middle linebacker in PSU’s season opener, has not played since that game, and has been seen with a cast on his left hand.
“We were hopeful we were going to have good news this week, but we had a setback.”
The Lions have lost seven linebackers to date, two of them (Nyeem Wartman-White and Jan Johnson) for the season. All three opening day starters are out, though Franklin did not address the status of one of them, Brandon Bell, on Tuesday. Bell hasn’t played since the second week of the season.
Nor did Franklin discuss the status of cornerback Christian Campbell, who was carted off last week with an apparent injury to his right ankle.
Support for kicker Joey Julius
Franklin and quarterback Trace McSorley voiced their support for kicker Joey Julius, who on Monday announced on Facebook that his 11-year battle with an eating disorder led him to spend nearly three months at a facility in Missouri back in May.
As McSorley said during a conference call with reporters:
“We knew he was dealing with something, but we didn’t know exactly what it was. We’re supportive of him and proud of him coming out with everything and feeling like he’s in a place he can do that. That’s a big step for him and we’re excited for him to move past it.”
Franklin said he was “very, very proud” of Julius, but added that he didn’t wish to go into too much detail, out of respect for privacy of his kicker and his family. The coach did say the following, however:
“I know this is something that probably affects and helps others, to see athletes or someone in Joey’s position like this to make himself vulnerable and put himself out there like that. I think a lot of people can relate with that and I think a lot of people can connect with that.”
Matt Millen: Barkley is better than ’15
Matt Millen, once a standout defensive lineman at Penn State and later a long-time NFL linebacker, will serve as the analyst on Saturday’s telecast. Mark Wogenrich of The (Allentown) Morning Call caught up with Millen, a Lehigh Valley native, and Millen said another player from that area, PSU sophomore running back Saquon Barkley, has made big strides this season:
“I think he looks better, in terms of being bigger, stronger and faster. The problem is, he’s got a year of tape, and everybody goes into a game saying, ‘He’s a freak, he can make you miss, he can turn the game on a dime when he gets to the second level, so don’t let him get there.’ ”
Teams have routinely packed the box against Barkley, who has not rushed for over 100 yards since the season opener. Last week against Minnesota, he was limited to 63 yards on 20 attempts, and had minus-12 yards on five tries in the second half. He nonetheless shook free for the decisive 25-yard touchdown run in overtime.
Overall he has rushed for 380 yards, 10th-most in the Big Ten, and averaged 4.4 a rush. As Wogenrich points out, that is 1.5 yards per carry fewer than in 2015. But Barkley has also rushed for seven touchdowns in five games, matching last season’s total. (He also has a TD reception.)
Millen went on to say that the offense is still finding its groove, given the fact that PSU has a new quarterback in McSorley and a new coordinator in Joe Moorhead:
“It’s an incomplete picture. The offensive line has a long way to go. They’re trying to find answers there, and it’s tough sledding. But it looks like McSorley is starting to understand more, especially with coverages and that his feet are going to be his best friend. You’re starting to see that develop.”
McSorley: It was a ‘huge party’
Franklin said his team’s locker room looked like the movie “Soul Plane” after the victory over Minnesota, and McSorley confirmed as much during an interview with the Big Ten Network on Tuesday.
He said it was “a huge party” with players dancing and celebrating. “You work all week to really get those 30 minutes in the locker room with your brothers and coaches,” he said.
The @PennStateFball locker room was a wild place Saturday.
Just ask @McSorley_IX.
— Penn State On BTN (@PennStateOnBTN) October 4, 2016