Penn St looks to step up run game, pass rush
Penn State is seeking a rush - any kind of rush.
The running game has been sluggish with tailback Evan Royster rushing for just 72 yards on 20 carries. It's not the kind of start expected for a senior nearing the school career rushing record.
The defense has three sacks over the first two games, but none from starting ends Jack Crawford or Eric Latimore. The Nittany Lions haven't forced a turnover - something coach Joe Paterno has prioritized changing with Kent State visiting Saturday - so stepping up the pass rush could be a key tool into forcing quarterbacks into making mistakes.
Defensive tackle Ollie Ogbu thinks the front four is getting pressure, despite the low sack count.
''I think we've done pretty well. ... Obviously we have to be a little more aggressive, maybe freelance a little more, instead of being robotic,'' Ogbu said. ''Only two games (in) you can't come up looking like you were in week 10.''
But the shortcomings were magnified in a humbling 24-3 loss at top-ranked Alabama.
Paterno has talked about the team's youth in certain positions on either side of the ball as a factor. At the least, there are players with experience as backups thrust into more demanding roles on a team with perennial Big Ten title hopes.
The defense has three new starting linebackers and two new starters up front, while starting corner Stephon Morris was last year's first reserve on passing downs.
True freshman starting quarterback Rob Bolden has stolen the spotlight on offense so far, and another freshman, Garry Gilliam, starts at tight end. The offensive line features two first-time starters with left tackle Quinn Barham and center Doug Klopacz.
''I think the experience down in Alabama will be good for them. You hate like the dickens to take a licking like that and say you learn from it,'' Paterno said. ''I thought yesterday we came out there with a bunch of kids that want to get better. And we've got to get better. It's as simple as that.''
Experience is something fifth-year senior Royster doesn't lack. The tailback has played extensively since 2007, allowing him to climb within 409 yards of the school career rushing mark of 3,398 held by Hall of Famer Curt Warner for nearly three decades.
The production, though, hasn't been there so far in 2010. The 32 yards on nine carries against the Tide might be understandable given 'Bama's tough defense, though the 40 yards on 11 carries against FCS foe Youngstown State in the season opener were a surprise.
To their credit, the offensive line hasn't allowed Bolden to get sacked. But the front five has struggled opening rush lanes for the shifty Royster. Paterno had said he was concerned about the tailback's weight coming into the season. Last week, Paterno said Royster's weight was now fine, though he worried about the back's stamina.
Royster bulked up in the offseason with the anticipation of taking more of the pounding that comes with a heavier workload, but he's now listed at 218 pounds - not unusual for a 6-foot-1 running back.
''Well, I think the effort's fine. I don't know whether we've really established the kind of running game that Royster would do well in. Royster is a kind of a 'pick 'em and spot 'em, give me a crack and I'll go' guy. He's not a guy that's going to run over you,'' Paterno said. ''But he's got good instincts. ... I think he's doing all right.''
Freshman Silas Redd has impressed in limited playing time so far, with 46 yards on eight carries, though Paterno indicated he's not ready to leapfrog Royster or second-string tailback Stephfon Green.
''But Royster, the minute we can get a little bit more running room for Royster and the kid behind him, Green ... they're both good backs.''