Penn State OL Okoli gets tough first test at Iowa
Iowa isn’t an ideal place for an opponent to break in a new
starter on the offensive line.
But No. 22 Penn State doesn’t have a choice for its Big Ten
opener Saturday night at Kinnick Stadium. Right tackle Lou Eliades
is out for the year with a right knee injury, so Chima Okoli likely
will get his first career start against one of the country’s most
formidable defensive fronts.
With Adrian Clayborn, Mike Daniels and Broderick Binns leading
the way, the 17th-ranked Hawkeyes can send quite a rush.
”He’s certainly going to have some problems. We can’t
overreact,” coach Joe Paterno said Tuesday at Beaver Stadium about
Okoli. ”Our tackles are going to have their hands full in pass
JoePa got a look at the disruptive talents of Clayborn and Binns
when Iowa sauntered into soggy Beaver Stadium a year ago and
wreaked havoc in the backfield and on special teams. The 6-foot-4,
285-pound Clayborn blocked a punt, then returned it 53 yards for a
touchdown in Iowa’s 21-10 win.
”Those are certainly Kodak moments, but what he does
down-to-down is what makes him an outstanding player,” Iowa coach
Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday during the Big Ten coaches conference
Binns had a sack for a safety last year. So far, Clayborn and
Binns are off to slow starts with no sacks and a combined two
tackles for a loss. No longer an unknown commodity, Clayborn has
seen more double teams.
Paterno likens Clayborn to Chicago Bears star and former North
Carolina end Julius Peppers.
”He’s what a defensive end should look like physically,”
Paterno said. ”He’s a heck of a football player.”
The sack slack at Iowa has been picked up by Daniels. The junior
had four tackles for a loss and a sack in Iowa’s 45-0 rout last
week over Ball State to claim conference co-defensive player of the
week honors. Daniels has three sacks on the year, and his 7.5
tackles for a loss are second in the Big Ten.
Freshman quarterback Rob Bolden, who has only been sacked once
in his four career starts, likely will see the fiercest pass rush
yet of his young career. A Penn State offensive line that helped
spring tailback Evan Royster for a career-best 187 yards last week
loses the experience of Eliades, who had started all 17 games over
the past two seasons.
Ferentz, for one, thinks Royster has the ability to make a
difference no matter who blocks for him.
”He’s a smooth and efficient player, I guess is how I’d
describe him,” he told reporters Tuesday in Iowa City. ”I think
he does everything very well. Not that he’s a flashy player, but
he’s very productive.”
Royster bounced back from a subpar three-week stretch against
Temple, slashing past tacklers and exploding through holes to get
within just 184 yards of the school record of 3,398 held by Hall of
Famer Curt Warner since 1982.
Much of that yardage came while Eliades was at right tackle
before Okoli, a one-time defensive lineman, took over midway
through the third quarter.
Royster hopes the offense stays in rhythm. DeOn’tae Pannell, who
lost the starting left guard job earlier this year, also has been
taking snaps at right tackle this week, though Paterno said Okoli
deserved the first shot to replace Eliades.
”We like to think that other guys can step in and play. We
can’t really say until we see Chima in action,” Royster said when
asked how the offense might be effected with Eliades out. ”I think
we’re hoping he can pick up where (Eliades) left off.”