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PSU has tough task ahead

The numbers seem to say Penn State has little hope of stopping No. 24 Minnesota’s runaway offense this weekend.

The Golden Gophers average nearly 47 points and 293 rushing yards a game, and rank second in the nation in both categories. The Nittany Lions have the worst rush defense in the Big Ten, allowing 204 ypg.

Yet, sometimes, numbers lie.

“What you see in the stats at the beginning of the season can be very deceptive,” Minnesota quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq said Tuesday. “I’m sure Penn State will be ready for us.”

The Gophers (4-0) have overwhelmed Tulsa, Troy State, Ohio and Louisiana-Lafayette — none of which will be eyeing a BCS bowl bid anytime soon.

The Lions’ defensive stats against the run were skewed by Nebraska’s lopsided attack. The Cornhuskers piled up 337 yards by running the ball on 72 out of 78 plays.

“Hey, if you run the ball 72 times, you’d better gain 300 yards,” Lions defensive tackle Tamba Hali said.

Yesterday, during his weekly press conference, Penn State coach Joe Paterno was quick to defend his defensive line.

“Outside of Nebraska, we’ve been a pretty good defensive football team,” Paterno said. “I’m not sure we’re keeping this thing in perspective. We’ve got a lot of good, young kids. They’ve got to play themselves into being good players, and we’ve got to keep some of them healthy.”

Hali and right tackle Ed Johnson have been slowed by sprained ankles, and Johnson also recently came down with the flu. Ends Sam Ruhe (knee) and Pat Hall) shoulder have missed the past two games, but might return Saturday. Left end John Bronson has been held out of practice with an undisclosed injury.

“We weren’t able to practice all the guys we wanted, but at least we did practice the backups,” Hali said.

The Lions (2-2) have been strong against the pass. They rank fifth in the country, allowing 126.3 ypg. Overall, the defense has not allowed a touchdown in the past 11 quarters.

ROBINSON COMING ON

The reduction of Michael Robinson’s “slash” role could indicate that Zack Mills’ grip on the starting quarterack job is not as firm as it was six weeks ago.

“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.”

Mills will start against Minnesota, but Paterno has promised to play Robinson for at least a series or two. Of the two, Robinson is a stronger runner — an important factor, considering Penn State’s problems on the offensive line.

“Maybe he is not as accurate a passer, right now, as Mills,” Paterno said, “but he’s accurate enough. He’s getting better all the time.”

GO PRO, MO

Ohio State tailback Maurice Clarett, a sophomore who has been suspended for the season, has opted to sue the NFL for the right to turn pro. Paterno did not say if he thought Clarett is ready for the NFL, but the coach supports the player’s right to choose.

“I think if a kid wants to go, let him go,” Paterno said. “And if he sues the NFL and wins, and then decides he wants to come back to college, let him come back.

“We’re trying to get into a situation where we’re too structured. There always are unusual situations. We let basketball players go from high school to the NBA. Maybe there are some things I don’t know about (Clarett’s situation), but I think a kid ought to make his own decisions.

“If someone sits down with him and says, ‘Maurice, look. You’re better off playing another year or two at Ohio State. You need more education. You’re gonna be a better player.’ and he still wants to go, let him go.”

ANOTHER PATERNO MILESTONE

Saturday’s game will be Paterno’s 600th since he was hired by former head coach Rip Engle.

Paterno’s first game as an assistant was Sept. 30, 1950, when Penn State played host to Georgetown. A crowd of about 12,000 gathered that day at Beaver Field, across the street from Rec Hall.

“I was as nervous as could be,” Paterno said. “I was upstairs, all by myself, and I made a lot of mistakes that day. But we ended up winning the game (34-14). After the game, I said, ‘Rip, I apologize.’ He said, ‘Nah, you did all right.’ ”

SHEEPSKIN AND PIGSKIN

According to an NCAA survey, Penn State’s graduation rate of 86 percent for football players is the fourth-highest in the nation and tops among public colleges. Boston College, Notre Dame and Vanderbilt lead the overall list.


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