Robinson inherits PSU QB reins
UNIVERSITY PARK – Zack Mills sat on the Penn State bench Saturday, his left knee wrapped with an ice pack, chatting with, of all people, Matt Senneca.
It all had an eerily familiar feel.
Once upon a time — actually the 2001 season — Senneca had struggled as Penn State’s starting quarterback. Mills, through a combination of good relief efforts and Senneca injury problems, eventually supplanted the increasingly unpopular Senneca, who ended up leaving the team with eligibility remaining.
Fast forward to 2003 and Mills is the incumbent quarterback incurring the wrath of the fans as Penn State struggles. Backup Michael Robinson, the guy who went in when Mills sprained his left knee at the end of the first quarter yesterday, with the Nittany Lions already trailing by 14 points, will start next weekend barring miraculous medical word regarding Mills.
This meant that questions of playcalling and clock management in the aftermath of Penn State’s 20-14 loss to Minnesota at Beaver Stadium were somehow secondary to the matter of whether this is a temporary blip in Mills’ career or a changing of the quarterback guard.
According to Mills, he and Senneca weren’t discussing such weighty matters on the sideline. Instead, the former quarterback, who just happened to be in town for the weekend, ended up chatting football and trying to take Mills’ mind off his current disappointment.
“I didn’t want to spend that much time with Matt,” said Mills, who was doing his best to retain his sense of humor. “But it ended up that I did.”
Whether or not Mills is destined for extensive sideline time even after his knee heals is a question the redshirt junior was not eager to entertain on this day.
“Until someone tells me otherwise, once I come back, I’ll be the starter,” Mills said.
Joe Paterno was defensive regarding both his quarterbacks after the Lions fell to 2-3 overall and 0-1 in the Big Ten.
“I think they’re both effective. I don’t think our problem’s been our quarterbacks,” he said. “There have been a lot of other things that haven’t gone as well as you’d like. I think the quarterbacks have hung in there and done a pretty good job.”
Mills had very modest success yesterday, hitting just 3 of 7 passes for 15 yards. He ran for twice as many yards, including 14 on the option run that ended the first quarter and his day when his knee buckled as he was tackled.
Robinson halved the 14-0 deficit when he directed the possession he inherited from Mills to a touchdown.
Penn State got to within three points, 17-14, at the half, and Robinson moved the team 67 yards in 12 plays on a drive for a potential tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter before coming up short at the Minnesota 13-yard line.
“It was a big loss for us, but we learned from it,” Robinson said, pausing slightly. “Our offense does work.”
He was laughing at the last part.
The Penn State offense, leaning heavily on the option, netted 266 rushing yards. Robinson had 42 of those. He also completed 16 of 27 passes for 178 yards. On the downside, he threw two interceptions, although one was the fault of a receiver running a bad route, and the other, as replays showed, wasn’t an interception at all as the ball hit the ground.
“I can throw the ball,” Robinson said matter-of-factly.
He can run it, too, prompting speculation about potential tweaks to the Penn State offense if he’s the main man for the near term.
“I really don’t know,” Robinson said. “Joe has a plan, and I just can’t wait to see what’s in it.”
Fans want to see if Robinson can revitalize the offense that has been struggling for reasons beyond the play of Mills.
As for Mills, he’s only human if he has begun to fear he’s the next Senneca.