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Thursday, November 6, 2008
Penn State not concerned about winning big


Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 Michael R. Sisak/Icon SMI
 Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions are not looking to embarrass a team by running up the score.

The practice of winning impressively doesn't bother Joe Paterno.

The 81-year-old coach has no plans to go back and re-adjust Penn State's victory margins from earlier this season. The eight wins by 14 points or more will remain. So will the six victories by 29 points or more.

It's the idea of intentionally shooting for style points, of premeditated punishment, that drives Paterno nuts.

"It bothers me," he said this week.

He recalled the 1994 season, the last time Penn State went undefeated and, more notably, the last time the Nittany Lions were prevented from playing for the national title.

Penn State won six of its first seven games by 24 points or more. The Lions' lone non-blowout -- a 31-24 win at No. 5 Michigan -- vaulted them to No. 1 nationally, and the next week they pounded No. 21 Ohio State 63-14 despite never passing the ball in the second half.

Then came a trip to Indiana.

"The game's over," Paterno said. "And [former Indiana coach] Bill Mallory's a good friend of mine. And I put the [second-team] kids in there, didn't throw the ball. So it comes out that we won by 10 points or something and Nebraska goes by us."

Penn State actually won by six points, but it fell to No. 2 nationally and never got back to the top.

"I'm not comfortable with how big you run up the score," Paterno said. "You win. The object of the game is not to embarrass anybody. The object of the game is to go out and play well enough to win the football game and enjoy playing against good opponents and respect them and walk off the field feeling that you haven't embarrassed anybody.

"If it comes out that it's a big [margin], what are you going to do?"

Paterno's last line encapsulates third-ranked Penn State's position heading to its last three games.

The Nittany Lions aren't going in with the intent of blowing out their opponents, even though an impressive win or two could help convince voters that they're worthy of a national title shot. Texas Tech jumped Penn State in the BCS standings last week, and other teams might do the same down the road. Alabama and Texas Tech likely will remain ahead of Penn State if both teams remain unbeaten because of the perceived strength of their conferences versus the Big Ten.

Then again, if Penn State's past performances are any indication, as long as the team executes to its potential, lopsided scores are likely.

"We need to keep doing what we've been doing," running back Evan Royster said. "We need to keep putting up numbers that make us look like we're one of the better teams in the country."

Some questioned whether Penn State looked like one of the nation's best teams in its last game, a 13-6 win against Ohio State on Oct. 25. Though the defense was fabulous, the nation's eighth-ranked scoring offense managed just three points through the first 53 minutes of play.

Senior wide receiver Deon Butler files the Ohio State game under the "Winning Ugly" tab, at least from an offensive standpoint. But he also notes that it was a solid team win that featured no penalties or turnovers -- two hazards Penn State has limited all season.

"That helps us with the margin of victory, just how we pay attention to details and really get the offense and the defense rolling," Butler said. "We'll look to do that again."

After a bye week, the Nittany Lions resume play Saturday at Iowa (ABC, 3:30 p.m.), where winning big won't be easy.

The Hawkeyes are 5-4, but all of their losses have come by five points or fewer. Iowa has trailed by more than 14 points only once in a game this season.

"If we focus on trying to light up the scoreboard, we'll get stuffed," Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark said. "We're not going to go in with the mindset of, 'If we score this amount of points, they're going to look at us in a certain way.'

"It doesn't matter, when it comes down to it."

Doesn't it?

Much of the talk nationally is how impressive one-loss Florida has looked in recent weeks. The Gators' seven wins all have come by 23 points or more, including a 30-point win against LSU and a 39-point win against Georgia. All of Oklahoma's eight wins have come by 14 points or more.

Penn State has only one more ranked team -- No. 18 Michigan State -- left on its schedule, leaving the Lions limited opportunities to make a big splash. As an undefeated team, they might not need one -- Florida, after all, inexcusably lost to Mississippi at home -- but it wouldn't hurt to prevent more leapfrogging in the BCS standings.

"Teams win, some teams lose, and whether you won impressively or not, it just comes down to winning," Butler said. "We don't want pity from anyone. We just have to be able to win these last three games and I think everything else will take care of itself. Our team feels that everything will work out in our favor if we handle our business."

For left tackle Gerald Cadogan, that business is clear.

"I can't control how impressed someone is with a two-touchdown win versus a three-touchdown win," Cadogan said. "All I can control is dominating this defensive end and making sure we get the yards and making sure that we win. If it's a dogfight and we only win by one point, that's one step closer to our goal.

"We can't control how people vote for us, how impressed they are by us. All we can control is winning games."