Penn State's Hodges a surprise return

For most of the offseason, especially the week leading up to Saturday's game, Bill O'Brien was mum on who would be returning punts and kicks for Penn State.

Would it be athletic, do-everything defensive star Adrian Amos? What about Bill Belton, the new No. 1 running back? Perhaps Allen Robinson, who has streaky speed? 

O'Brien answered those questions with a variation of the same response: "You'll see on Saturday."

So it was perhaps to everyone's surprise when Ohio lined up for its opening kick, Paulsboro's Gerald Hodges stood deep for Penn State waiting for the ball.

That's right. Hodges, the linebacker.

Hodges returned the ball for 12 yards to the Penn Sate 12. OK, many fans thought, an odd experiment, but O'Brien will use somebody else next time. Wrong. 

A three-and-out for Ohio on its first drive and Ohio punts the ball from the 30-yard line. Once again, the 6-foot-2, 237-pound Hodges was there to receive, again. He lost one yard on the return.

Then in the beginning of the second quarter, the Bobcats punted again. And there was Hodges, ready to go. Only this time wasn't quite too successful. The linebacker received a 38-yard punt, then subsequently fumbled the ball to give the ball on the 13-yard line. The turnover resulted in a four play, eight yard, 1:26 scoring drive to give Ohio its first points of the game on a field goal.

After that, the Hodges experiment seemed to be over. Amos and Belton took care of the rest of the duties. Later in the game, Hodges had his right calf taped. Then his left ankle. The All-Big Ten linebacker missed chunks of the second half. It was unclear what was ailing Hodges. 

He was not made available for media after the game.

Three returns and that was it for Hodges. Maybe a failed experiment, but it did reveal one truth: For O'Brien, nothing is off the table. Penn State's new coach is a risk taker.

-Emily Kaplan