Forget wins, O’Brien’s biggest job is saving Penn State’s morale

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Support Penn State, or hate Penn State, everyone can agree they wouldn’t want to be Nittany Lions kicker Sam Ficken right now. Ficken, a sophomore, missed four field goals and had an extra point attempt blocked in a 17-16 loss to Virginia Saturday afternoon.

Penn State is now 0-2 on the season.

Bill O’Brien‘s team actually outgained Virginia in total yards and rushing yards — Virginia, for what it’s worth (nothing, obviously) had just 32 on the ground — but the most startling stat of all is the fact that the Nittany Lions could not do more with four Virginia turnovers.

Penn State’s defense is doing enough to put the team in a position to win, but things still aren’t clicking on offense the way they need to if this team is even going to get to six wins this year. The problem is Penn State just doesn’t have playmakers on offense. Or on special teams, apparently.

But what O’Brien needs to be concerned about is not who takes the field right now, but rather what goes on inside the heads of those who do. Against Ohio, there was an opening-weekend adrenaline mixed with the fallout of the Jerry Sandusky/NCAA mess that bred a mentality of “us against the world.”

Well, that didn’t work out too well. Now, the Nittany Lions are down two games that they very easily could have won. Don’t scoff, but Navy and Temple aren’t guaranteed W’s either — not now, anyway. And what about the Big Ten schedule? Teams are smelling the blood in the blood in the water.

So at what point do the players begin thinking to themselves maybe they can’t be successful this year? Maybe this is a lost cause? Don’t underestimate the amount of pressure placed on these players.

Perhaps two games is too soon to be talking about giving up, but O’Brien’s biggest job now becomes about keeping his players’ heads up before it’s too late.

USC optimistic Uchenna Nwosu will play against Cal

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Already battered by injuries on defense, USC may have avoided what would’ve potentially been a significant loss on that side of the ball.

Uchenna Nwosu suffered a sprained MCL in his knee during USC’s double-overtime win over Texas in Week 3.  After being held out in the early part of the week, the linebacker, armed — or kneed as the case may be — with a brace, returned to practice Wednesday.

Afterward, head coach Clay Helton seemed optimistic about Nwosu’s availability for the Week 4 game against Cal, their first road trip of the season.

Nwosu is currently second on the team in tackles with 20, while his seven pass breakups rank second nationally.  He’s started the first three games of the season for the Trojans after starting every game in 2016.

That brings us to the end of the positive injury news portion of the program as fellow linebacker Porter Gustin is very unlikely to play against the Golden Bears.  Gustin, who leads the Trojans in sacks with three, has been dealing with a surgically-repaired big toe.  While it didn’t keep him out of the Texas game as expected, he was sidelined again at practice Wednesday.

Additionally, defensive end Rasheem Green (ankle) and slot cornerback Ajene Harris (knee) are questionable for the road trip to Berkeley after sitting out practice yet again.

Tennessee LB Cortez McDowell’s season might not be over after all

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In the end, there could be an injury silver lining for Tennessee after all.

In the aftermath of the deflating last-second loss to rival Florida, Tennessee head coach Butch Jones announced that Cortez McDowell would miss the remainder of the 2017 season.  The linebacker sustained an injury to his wrist that, at the time, was deemed serious enough to shelve him for the rest of the year.

The key here is “at the time” as, a couple of days later, the prognosis has brightened slightly as Jones allowed Wednesday that McDowell could return at some point this season.  Whether it’s late in the regular season or even for a bowl game, the coach at least left the door open for the senior to play again in 2017.

Obviously, any availability would be determined in the coming weeks by the program’s medical staff.

McDowell would be eligible for a medical hardship waiver if he shut it down for the remainder of the season, which would give the fourth-year senior another year of eligibility to use in 2018.  At least at this point in time, that’s not the tack that either the player or the football program is taking.

After starting four of 12 games last season, McDowell started the first three games this season prior to his injury.

 

Derrius Guice ruled out for LSU’s game vs. Syracuse

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So there you have it.

Late in the third quarter of Saturday’s 37-7 loss to Mississippi State, Derrius Guice sustained an injury to his left knee.  While Ed Orgeron downplayed the severity of the injury in the ensuing days, he allowed during his turn on the SEC coaches teleconference Wednesday that his star running back is “very questionable right now” for the Week 4 game against Syracuse.

Later that night, on the head coach’s radio show, the very questionable morphed into completely out.

Through three games, Guice leads the Tigers with 300 yards rushing and is tied for tops on the team with four rushing touchdowns. His rushing yards are currently fourth in the SEC; last season, his 1,387 yards were tops in the conference.

With Guice unable to go, Darrel Williams (28-159-4) will likely be next in line to shoulder the brunt of the running-game load.

Mason Rudolph’s younger brother sees freshman season at Clemson come to an injury end

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Mason Rudolph is looking at the rest of the season as an opportunity to continue pushing his way into the Heisman discussion and his team deeper into the College Football Playoff picture.  His younger brother, on the other hand, is looking at rehab.

Wednesday night, Clemson announced that Logan Rudolph will miss the remainder of the 2017 season because of a shoulder injury.  The defensive end sustained the injury during a Tuesday practice, and will undergo surgery at some point in the future to repair the damage.  Rudolph dealt with a shoulder issue late in his high school career, and it’s believed this is related to that.

A four-star member of the Tigers’ 2017 recruiting class, Rudolph was rated as the No. 23 weakside defensive end in the country and the No. 4 player at any position in the state of South Carolina.  After enrolling early and participating in spring practice, the true freshman played in two games as a backup behind starter Austin Bryant.  In that limited action, he was credited with three tackles and one tackle for loss.

Because of how few games he’s played, Rudolph would be eligible for a medical redshirt.  That would allow the lineman to extend his eligibility out through the 2021 season if he so desires.

Getting back to the famous name-drop in the lede, Rudolph’s older brother, of course, is the starting quarterback for No. 6 Oklahoma State.