Injuries hurting Penn State sooner than expected

Bill Belton sustained an ankle injury in Penn State's loss to Ohio on Saturday. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

With a wave of transfers before the season began and NCAA-imposed scholarship reductions looming, everyone knew Penn State coach Bill O'Brien was going to be short-handed.

But a lack of depth seems to be hurting the Penn State football team sooner than most expected.

Several key players were injured in the 24-14 season-opening loss to Ohio on Saturday. Senior cornerback Stephon Morris and sophomore runnning back Bill Belton sustained ankle injuries in the loss. O'Brien said both players are day-to-day. However on Monday, Morris posted on his personal Twitter account (@12_darKnight): "Treatment from sun up to sun down. Will be back saturday!!"

If Belton cannot go Saturday -- O'Brien said it depends on how he practices throughout the week -- backup Derek Day will assume No. 1 running back duties. Day had eight carries for 36 yards against Ohio.

"Derek Day -- he's not exactly a sleeper," senior fullback Michael Zordich said on Tuesday. "He's a tough kid, he can run the ball very well, he understands his routes and his protections. He's worked very hard."

O'Brien mentioned Curtis Dukes and Akeel Lynch as other players who would provide depth if Belton can not go.

Lynch, a freshman, was not among the five true freshmen who O'Brien played on Saturday. Redshirting and roster management is especially important this fall as Penn State will be limited to 65 scholarships beginning next season. So what is O'Brien's plan?

"I think maybe halfway through the season or so, if they still haven't played, it would be safe to assume they would redshirt," O'Brien said. "Unless we absolutely had to play them because of injuries or things like that."

Another question O'Brien tackled was if fatigue played a factor in the loss to Ohio. The Nittany Lions were outscored 21-0 in the second half.

"We lost some of our energy in the second half," senior Jordan Hill said. "We have to keep that up the whole game."

The Penn State strength and conditioning program wemt through a complete transformation this offesason. Philadelphia native Craig Fitzgerald led the effort, revamping the entire fitness center with free weights and loud music. 

O'Brien said he watched the game tape and did not think his team looked tired.

"I think our team is in pretty good condition," O'Brien said. "I think it's more just making sure that we go out there and show the guys that, that it's a very fine line between winning and losing."

-Emily Kaplan