Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Penn State still shaping sense of direction
By Adam Rittenberg
In the past, offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski never had to bring a compass to Penn State practice.
Veteran leaders like Daryll Clark, Sean Lee, A.Q. Shipley and Josh Gaines drove the bus, and everyone knew the direction in which the Nittany Lions were headed. Wisniewski merely had to hop on board.
It's not that simple in Happy Valley this season.
Penn State knows where it wants to go and what it wants to be, but there are fewer certainties. Starting quarterback Rob Bolden has been a college player for less than two months. The offensive line is still settling in after an offseason shuffle. Several of the key contributors on defense are new.
Evan Royster has struggled to get on track in the early part of the season.
Where is Penn State headed this fall? It's still to be determined.
"It's a little different," Wisniewski said. "It takes a little bit a longer to see what you got when you have some younger guys. We know they're very talented, but it takes getting into a season to see how well they're going to develop."
A Week 2 trip to No. 1 Alabama showed Penn State how far it needs to go. The Lions responded last week against Kent State, blanking the Golden Flashes 24-0, though the win left some lingering doubts about the offense.
Penn State faces another huge test Oct. 2 at No. 18 Iowa in the Big Ten opener, but first it takes on an undefeated Temple team brimming with confidence and seeking a historic upset Saturday at Beaver Stadium (Big Ten Network, 3:30 p.m. ET).
Despite a mid-game offensive lull against Kent State, Wisniewski and his linemates gained confidence from the way they started and finished. The offensive line had been a question mark entering the season, but Penn State is the only FBS team yet to allow a quarterback sack through the first three games.
The Lions also received a second-half boost from backup running back Stephfon Green, who rushed for 59 yards on only 11 carries.
"Offensively, we saw signs that we can have a very balanced attack, and that can create problems for people," Wisniewski said. "We’re starting to do well picking up some of the more complex blitzes and things defenses are throwing at us. You can see it in that we haven't given up a sack here in three games, which is excellent, given how many different [position] changes we had."
Penn State's biggest question mark on offense remains one of the unit's few guarantees entering the season -- senior running back Evan Royster. The first-team All-Big Ten selection from 2009 has yet to eclipse 40 rushing yards in the first three games.
Royster reached the end zone for the first time against Kent State but also fumbled in the third quarter and saw his duties limited. The senior returned to Penn State in part to be a featured back this fall, but he has had to share carries with Green, a veteran reserve, and emerging freshman Silas Redd. Left tackle Quinn Barham told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that "we're worried" about Royster's struggles.
"I’m sure he'd like to get the ball a little bit more, but he’s handling it well," Wisniewski said. "He knows that the heart of our season is still to come."
Wisniewski shot down the notion that Royster might be pushed for his starting spot.
"He doesn't need to earn the job," Wisniewski said. "It’s his job. He's got 3,000 yards rushing. That's not something he needs to worry about."
Coach Joe Paterno doesn't sound as concerned as he did leading up to the season. There are the typical JoePa lines -- "I couldn't tell you there's one area where I'm completely satisfied," he said Tuesday -- but aside from being more competitive at Alabama, the team has developed on schedule.
Paterno identified consistency in the run game and forcing more turnovers as two things Penn State must achieve in the coming weeks.
"I've been optimistic that one of these days, we're going to be a pretty good football team," Paterno said. "We’re not there yet. We're a little better now than we were to start with. ... Hopefully, we'll have a good week and play a little better against Temple than we've played so far this year, and I think we'll have to, to win it.