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Mills longing for fun, wins at PSU

Zack Mills has been on a mission of late to remind his fellow members of the Penn State football team that they should be getting more enjoyment from the sport.

That aspect, said the Nittany Lions’ quarterback, has been lost, along with a couple of games, in Penn State’s 2-2 start.

“You just try to make it fun, like how it was in high school and before that,” Mills said Wednesday. “If you’re having fun, you’re playing well.”

Truth be told, though, Mills isn’t having much fun himself.

“I’m not going to lie, no, I’m not,” he admitted.

Throwing for 100 yards a game, in his words, is not as much fun as passing for 270 or 300. Completing less than 50 percent of your attempts, when receivers are averaging five or six drops a game, that’s no fun.

Being fingered by some as the man to blame for the inconsistent Penn State offense is no fun.

Having backup quarterback Michael Robinson run series periodically in games is no fun.

And, most of all, it is no fun hearing coach Joe Paterno now declining to rule out that Robinson, who will again play the role of change-up quarterback Saturday against Minnesota, conceivably could unseat Mills before the season ends.

“I’ve never been a two-quarterback guy,” Paterno said. “I’m going to try to get the most I can out of Zack and Michael, and we’ll go from there.

“If that means we’ve got two quarterbacks, then we’ve got two quarterbacks. If that means we’ve got one and a darn good backup, that’s what it means. Does it mean Michael might beat out Zack after three or four more games• I don’t know if it means that or not.”

Although Mills had two strong seasons for Penn State in 2001 and 2002, he was ineffective in a bowl loss to Auburn and was relieved by Robinson, igniting speculation about this season.

Mills held his job through the spring and summer, but the team’s offensive problems have revived the Mills-Robinson debate.

Even against Kent State, a 32-10 victim the past Saturday, Mills couldn’t put up big passing numbers. He completed 10 of 20 for 99 yards. Robinson, who quarterbacked several series, hit just 2 of 9 for 29 yards. The combined unofficial drop total for the receivers was six.

Through four games, Mills is under 50 percent, completing 47 of 98 throws for 481 yards and a touchdown. He threw for 399 yards and a touchdown in one game last season, an overtime loss to Iowa.

Mills admits to feeling frustrated by his receivers drops, but he tries to maintain perspective.

“I can’t really control the receivers catching the football,” he said. “If I made the right read and put it where I’m supposed to, I feel I’m playing pretty well and I’m getting into a rhythm.”

Yet, asked to grade his own performance, Mills replied, “Stats don’t lie.”

Well, they can, he allowed when challenged, but, “I don’t think I’ve been playing as well as I could have been.”

The Penn State offense has been simplified in an attempt to get the inexperienced receivers more comfortable. Position changes have been made to bolster the receiving corps.

But, as the mid-point of the season nears, the offense has a single touchdown pass and a disturbing lack of passing proficiency.

Mills remains optimistic.

“I believe in this offense and I believe in this team,” he said, “and I think we’re going to get this job done.”

That would mean having fun again, and Mills is all for that, too.


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