STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) It’s tough love time at Penn State.
Increase the intensity at practice, coach Joe Paterno has told his 23rd-ranked Nittany Lions. Be more aggressive. Show younger players the hard work it takes to win.
Looks like the message has sunk in.
“If you don’t perform, then you won’t start. We didn’t perform well a couple games,” cornerback D’Anton Lynn said Tuesday. “So that starts in practice. If you don’t perform in practice … they’re definitely not hesitating to switch your spot.”
Paterno began turning up the heat last week, unhappy after the 21-point loss at top-ranked Alabama. The team responded Saturday with a 24-0 shutout – albeit sloppy, at times – of Kent State.
After the game, some players relayed how coaches told them in practice jobs were on the line if play didn’t improve. Others talked about more spirited practices.
“I think some of the guys you talked to were dreaming,” Paterno joked to a reporter at Beaver Stadium. “We only put full pads on them once, but we put the shoulder pads on them, and we were a little bit more aggresssive.”
Don’t expect a change this week as the Nittany Lions get ready for Temple on Saturday.
“We’ll be pretty close to a normal week, but much more demanding in the sense that you can’t go tough two plays and take one off … (we’ve) got to get away from that,” Paterno said. “We’ll get better.”
Minor injuries may have played a role in some noticeable lineup changes. Ends Jack Crawford (hip) and Eric Latimore, who had an undisclosed injury, are both still listed as starters despite not starting Saturday, when Pete Massaro and Sean Stanley each made their first career starts.
Better pass rush has been a point of emphasis recently, and the pressure improved against Kent State – including a sack by Crawford.
Paterno said safety Drew Astorino’s surgically repaired left shoulder has been bothering him again of late, so he’s been limited in practice. Backup Andrew Dailey played most of the Kent State game in the base defense, with Astorino subbing on passing downs – though defensive coordinator Tom Bradley has also said assistants had been upset with Astorino on a missed tackle.
No position has been analyzed more in recent weeks than tailback, where star Evan Royster has just 110 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries over three games. It’s a disappointing start for a senior just 371 yards shy of the school career rushing record of 3,398 held by Curt Warner for nearly three decades.
In the second half against Kent State, Stephfon Green carried the load during a third-quarter drive that stabilized a struggling offense leading 14-0. Royster had just four yards on three carries after halftime.
Paterno said he thought the Nittany Lions had control of the game, and wanted to simply get experience, for Green, a junior and talented third-string freshman Silas Redd.
“For me to tell ‘so-and-so is going to carry the ball X number of times,’ I can’t,” Paterno said. “I think we have two, three good running backs, and I think any one of (them) can handle the situation if they give us an opportunity to run.”
Royster remains atop the depth chart, though. Paterno stressed he’s not worried about Royster, and that, whether in lopsided wins or the blowout loss to Alabama, Royster hasn’t been needed as much.
He also wants more consistency from the offensive line in the run game.
“I’ve challenged all those guys. I said you guys have to carry this football team. You have to tell these young guys what it takes to win … and Royster has done that,” Paterno said.
The Nittany Lions have a fair share of sophomores or untested juniors playing expanded roles – not to mention freshman Rob Bolden at quarterback. That leaves players such as Royster among the few senior skill position players with extensive experience.
Those guys haven’t been immune, either, from the tough talk.
“I think he’s trying to send a message that we have a lot of depth, a lot of guys who can play,” senior receiver Graham Zug said. “He’s trying to make a point you can’t settle down, can’t settle in.”