STATECOLLEGE, Pa. – Penn State coach Bill O'Brien has widened the realm of preparation for Saturday's season opener against Syracuse by honing his players' collective mental and emotional edge.
Anything to get an edge.
The second-year coach took a break from the playbook during preseason practice to enlighten the Nittany Lions on the history of the proud Penn State program.
He walked his 110 players through the university's All-Sports Museum and into Beaver Stadium where they watched a professionally narrated video. Highlights ranged from past players exiting the traditional blue school buses at the stadium on game days to showing highlights of big plays from former Nittany Lions stars.
Defensive tackle DaQuan Jones said the tour was an opportunity for the team to "see what they're playing for."
The video stressed that the team "win for each other; win for those who came before you, and win for those who believe in you." It ended by imploring the players that "what they do here will last forever."
ORANGE ON THE RUN: Syracuse first-year coach Scott Schafer, like O'Brien, has yet to name a starting quarterback for the game at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. To the Nittany Lions, however, it really doesn't matter who is under center for the Orange. After all, O'Brien said the team's initial task on defense is to stop the Syracuse running game.
Either Terrel Hunt or Drew Allen, an Oklahoma transfer, will start at quarterback for the Orange, but running backs Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley are seasoned veterans who combined for more than 2,000 yards last season.
"You go into every single game, no matter who you're playing, you've got to be ready to stop the run," O'Brien said. "If your defense isn't centered on stopping the run, then you're going to be in trouble."
SPECIAL DUTIES: Defensive coaches Ron Vanderlinden and Charles London are in charge of special teams this season. John Butler coached those units last season but was promoted to defensive coordinator when Ted Roof opted to leave Penn State for Georgia Tech.
"I just felt it was better for the kids to hear from two voices," O'Brien said. "I guess three, including me, because I'm heavily involved in special teams. The players have really adapted to that well."
NEW SCHOLARSHIP PLAYERS: Penn State must limit the number of scholarship players to 65 effective during the 2014 season. Teams are routinely permitted to have 85. The Nittany Lions have 71 scholarship players this season as O'Brien recently awarded scholarships to five former walk-on players.
Those standouts, who O'Brien refers to as "run-ons," are offensive lineman Bryan Davie, defensive tackle Tyrone Smith, defensive end Carl Nassib, cornerback Devin Pryor, and running back Deron Thompson.
"I've watched these guys over a long period of time," O'Brien said. "Each guy has been on our team for a while. We don't just hand out (scholarships) like candy. You have to earn that scholarship, and these guys have earned it."
PLAYERS HEAD HOME: Twelve Penn State players are from New Jersey and five came from high schools in New York, so there will be added incentive to play well at The Meadowlands.
Linebacker Steven Obeng-Agyapong was raised in The Bronx and said playing at MetLife Stadium is "a dream come true."
Linebacker Glenn Carson, from Manahawkin, N.J., said many family members from northern New Jersey will attend. "There's going to be a big crowd for me," said Carson, who has 171 tackles the past two seasons.
THE RECORD BOOKS: Penn State leads the series with Syracuse 40-23-5. It's the 71st meeting between the two schools but two of the victories were vacated because of NCAA sanctions. . Penn State is 27-5-1 at neutral sites since 1974. The Nittany Lions were 10-3 at the former Giants Stadium in East Rutherford. . Penn State's tight ends caught 82 passes last season, second in the NCAA behind Stanford (90).