Alvarez says Paterno still has it
MADISON, Wis. — Don’t tell Barry Alvarez the game has passed by Penn State coach Joe Paterno.
Or that Paterno’s Nittany Lions aren’t very good.
The Wisconsin coach won’t hear any of it.
Alvarez said those who know football know Paterno still has it together in his 38th season as Penn State’s head coach.
“Joe Paterno is sharp as a tack, and all you have to do is watch his teams play and see the quality of the athletes and how sound and well-coached they are,” Alvarez said Monday at his weekly news conference. “I think coaches recognize that. Laymen may not recognize that. People just know wins and losses.”
Paterno, the game’s winningest coach, has been the subject of persistent criticism the last few years as some have wondered whether it’s time for him to retire.
The Nittany Lions dropped to 2-3 on Saturday in losing their Big Ten opener to Minnesota. They play host to Wisconsin (4-1, 1-0) this weekend.
Alvarez scoffed at the suggestion that the Nittany Lions weren’t very good this year and at questions about whether Paterno is still on top of his game.
He said the same questions were raised several years ago when the Nittany Lions had a similar rough spot, and some criticized Paterno for his recruiting. But in this year’s draft, four Nittany Lions were taken in the first round of the NFL draft.
Alvarez said this year’s team is no different from what Paterno usually produces — a dangerous running game and an athletic, fast defense that doesn’t give up anything cheap.
That rushing attack could be enhanced this week if the mobile Michael Robinson plays at quarterback. He replaced an injured Zack Mills in Saturday’s loss to Minnesota, and Alvarez said he expects him to start this week.
“He’s the guy that they’ve tried to get the ball in his hands because he’s such a good athlete and such a threat,” said Alvarez, a Burgettstown native. “He threw the ball well against Minnesota, and he presents a lot of problems. Basically, you’re adding another runner into their running game.”
Alvarez also said he hopes to know soon whether senior defensive end Erasmus James can play this year. James hurt his hip and has yet to play this season. He was scheduled to have tests run later Monday.
Alvarez said if James were cleared to play, he could be a situational pass rusher at first and be a full-time player within a couple weeks.