Confident Penn State gets day off for stretch run
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP)Penn State defensive tackle Ollie Ogbu didn't know what to do after coach Joe Paterno gave the team a day off.
They got a breather after a 25-point road win over Michigan gave No. 12 Penn State its fourth straight victory.
While not a direct reward for beating the Wolverines, the confident Nittany Lions (7-1, 3-1 Big Ten) got a break Monday to rest up for the final four games of the regular season.
Win out and the Nittany Lions likely will land another BCS bowl game.
"The funny thing is, this happens once a year, and every year the same thing happens - we don't know what to do. We don't know whether to relax, do extra work," Ogbu said Tuesday.
He ended up catching up on sleep after class.
The break was brief - the stretch run starts Saturday with a trip to Northwestern, followed by a visit Nov. 7 from Ohio State.
Not that any of the Nittany Lions say they are thinking about the annual grudge match with the Buckeyes. Paterno, head coach for a record 44 years, knows better than to look that far ahead.
"Well, you bring up a scenario that I don't think it's going to be relevant," Paterno said after a reporter mentioned the Buckeyes. "We've got to play Northwestern. I haven't even thought about the game after that one."
Penn State must avoid another slip-up to have any chance at winning a second straight Big Ten title. Their only loss came to unbeaten Iowa, so the Hawkeyes need to lose twice in their last four games for the Nittany Lions to get back in the Rose Bowl picture.
Still, the team's confidence level is at a season high after overwhelming the Wolverines last week at the Big House. Penn State has won its last four games by an average of four touchdowns.
The offense is peaking after a slow start this season. Quarterback Daryll Clark and his teammates have overcome an uncharacteristically high number of penalties recently with a dynamic mixture of running and pass plays that is keeping foes off-balance.
Senior tight end Andrew Quarless, one of at least four receivers with at 21 or more receptions, said younger Nittany Lions players have gained confidence over the last month to help boost veterans like him and Clark.
"We got those butterflies out," Quarless said. "Now that confidence is definitely up, and we're getting all those looks that we're seeing" in practice.
The team is also getting healthier.
Nerraw McCormack has recovered from a right ankle injury and should compete with Ako Poti for the starting right tackle spot this week in practice. Poti has played relatively well the last three weeks with McCormack out.
Stephfon Green (right ankle) is listed as possible on the injury report, though Paterno didn't sound optimistic Tuesday that his speedy second-string tailback would return against Northwestern.
Navorro Bowman has emerged to fulfill his potential as one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten after being sidelined most of the first three weeks because of a sore right groin. Fellow top linebacker Sean Lee has eased back into the lineup after missing three games with a sprained left knee.
A staunch defensive line keeps improving, led by disruptive tackle Jared Odrick (five sacks) and a secondary thought to be a weakness because of four new starters is gaining confidence.
All prime factors for a defense that has been a virtual fortress, allowing an NCAA-low 8.9 points a game.
"We can hang our hat knowing we're just as good, if not better, than the previous two years when we had all-stars, all-Big Ten guys playing at their positions," Ogbu said.