A Homecoming for Certain Lions

Will playing before family and friends be the ticket to a rebound win for Royster and company? We'll find out when Penn State faces Indiana in the nation's capital.

Penn State players like Evan Royster and Chima Okoli are spending this week scrambling for tickets.

But the larger issue, for them and everybody else, is picking up the pieces.

Saturday will find PSU (3-3 Big Ten, 6-4 overall) visiting FedEx Field in Landover, Md. -- not far from Virginia, home state of Royster and Okoli -- for a noon meeting with Indiana. In the Nittany Lions' rear-view mirror (or so they hope) is the demoralizing 38-14 loss to Ohio State last weekend, a game they led 14-3 at halftime.

“I think I speak for the majority of my teammates when I say we put the game behind us,” said Okoli, a redshirt junior offensive tackle, “because in football you don't have a choice.”

“We've already kind of moved on,” agreed Royster, the record-setting senior tailback. “I don't think the loss lingered too much. … We can get another win under our belt and get some momentum going again.”

That appears a distinct possibility, seeing as the Hoosiers (0-6 conference, 4-6 overall) -- the home team this weekend, in an oddity -- have lost four straight, the most recent an 83-20 embarrassment by Wisconsin last weekend.

Not that anybody in the PSU camp would ever admit to dwelling on such a game.

“Personally,” Okoli said, “I think we'll get the team that should have beat Iowa” -- a reference to Indiana's 18-13 loss to the Hawkeyes on Nov. 6. The Hoosiers' might have won that one, had wide receiver Damarlo Belcher held onto Ben Chappell's fourth-down pass in the end zone with 28 seconds left.

Indiana -- which also lost the week before to Northwestern, 20-17 -- is 10th in the conference in scoring defense (33.6 points per game), rushing defense (183.3 yards per game), total defense (411.6) and pass-efficiency defense (154.7 rating), and ninth in passing yards allowed per game (228.3).

The Lions have their own concerns. They will be without linebacker Michael Mauti (shoulder) and could be without Royster's backup, freshman Silas Redd, who has really come on in recent weeks. Redd was charged with disorderly conduct for urinating in public early Monday morning, and Joe Paterno was coy when asked during his weekly news conference Tuesday about Redd's potential availability.

Also up in the air is the availability of defensive end Sean Stanley, who as also cited for disorderly conduct last week -- the second time this season he has run afoul of the law.

Royster believes Redd will play. Same for another reserve tailback, Stephfon Green, who was helped from the field after being knocked woozy on a kickoff return against Ohio State.

As for Royster, he emerged from the game against the Buckeyes with a bruised left knee, and said he has worn a neoprene sleeve while practicing this week as a precaution. But he also said he will “definitely” play against the Hoosiers.

Paterno gave the Lions off Monday, which would presumably help heal any physical and mental scars.

“I think we've matured as a team,” Royster said. “We understand we need to come back from this and not stay down for too long.”

He hails from Fairfax, Va. Okoli is from Virginia Beach. Neither one grew up rooting for the Redskins, who call FedEx Field home, though both have attended games in that stadium.

Royster, in fact, was a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, having lived in Dallas for a few years when he was very young. And when he and his family moved to Virginia, he said he found “a good amount” of Cowboys fans in the area.

So, he said, “I still kind of fit in.”

Though his best friend, a Redskins fan, had some issues with his team affiliation.

“Those were the years I stopped rooting for NFL teams anyway,” Royster said. “It wasn't a bad deal.”

Okoli has always been a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, another NFC East rival of the Redskins. He nontheless attended a handful of games in FedEx, the first a Washington-Oakland matchup when he was a sophomore in high school -- a year after he began playing organized football himself.

He remembers the Redskins winning that game on a late field goal. He also remembers getting his first look at the Raiders' rabid fans.

“I didn't get too close to those guys, though,” he said with a laugh. “They were pretty insane-looking.”

He would later make it to Lincoln Financial Field to see his beloved Birds.

“I saw Raider fans (previously),” he said, again laughing. “I thought they were scary until I saw Eagles fans.”

Now he and Royster are among those scrounging for tickets from their teammates, in hopes of accommodating all the friends and family members who are expected to attend Saturday's game.

Royster said it will be “kind of exciting” to play before all that support.

“You can't put a value on the experience of going back and playing in front of people you know,” Okoli said. “It's really a blessing.”

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