Up to the Challenge

Joe Paterno called out the Penn State offensive linemen last week. They responded with their best showing of the season in a win over Iowa.

Joe Paterno said the coaching staff “kind of challenged” Penn State's offensive line in the days leading up to Saturday's 13-3 victory over Iowa, a game in which the Lions ran for 231 yards.

That, kids, would be called a euphemism.

There was, by all accounts, a tough scrimmage Tuesday. And there was some not-so-gentle prodding on the part of the head coach.

“All week in practice he would pull us to the side, and he rarely does that,” tackle Quinn Barham said. “He'll stop our entire drill and say, 'You know what? I need you guys to pick it up. You're playing like a bunch of little girls, and it's time to pick it up.'

“For that to come from him, first it makes you laugh, because he's a little old man. Second, you really take it to heart, because he's a great coach and he knows what he's talking about. … We really took that as motivation to really get better and really take control of this team.”

The O-Line had taken heat from other sectors, and not without reason. There was little evidence it could knock anybody off the ball, in desultory victories over Temple and Indiana.

But against the Hawkeyes, Barham and Co. did that. PSU ran for its second-highest yardage total of the season, on 46 carries. (Only against Indiana State did it gain more -- 245.) Tailback Silas Redd (28-142) and backup tailback Curtis Dukes (9-60) each reached career highs.

Some context is needed. These are not the Hawkeyes of old. They began the day 10th in the Big Ten in rushing defense, allowing 140.5 yards per game. But the game at least represented a step forward for the offensive line.

“We wanted to make a statement,” center Matt Stankiewitch said. “We wanted to get that monkey off our backs. We went on the field today with a little chip on our shoulder.”

The Lions accumulated 145 yards on the ground in the second half, on 29 carries. Ninety of those yards were generated by Redd, on 16 carries. Forty-seven came from Dukes, on seven attempts.

Redd played one day after burying his paternal grandmother, Mamie Lingard, in his native Connecticut. She had died of cancer last Sunday.

“Part of me wanted to go home as soon as I found out,” he said, “but I knew I had a responsibility here, and I couldn't leave my team. I'm thankful that Penn State let me go home Thursday night and get that closure.”

The funeral was Friday morning; he returned to the team later in the day. And far from being heavy-hearted, he said her passing served as something of an inspiration for him. She had always been one to encourage him as he was growing up, to tell him to take advantage of every opportunity.

“So,” he said, “I dedicate this one to her.”

Redd ran five times for 30 yards on the decisive (and punishing) 11-play, 49-yard drive in the fourth quarter, which came after linebacker Gerald Hodges blitzed off the edge and stripped Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg from behind. Nate Stupar recovered for the Lions.

The ensuing march was all on the ground, except the last play. While it first appeared that Redd had scored from 18 yards out, that touchdown was wiped out by a holding penalty on fullback Michael Zordich. Didn't matter; the Lions roadgraded their way to the 2, and then Matt McGloin used a play-action fake to good effect before throwing to backup tight end Kevin Haplea for the TD that made it 13-3.

Afterward Redd noted that the linemen “played with so much more passion” than usual.

“I don't know what it was,” he said, “but hopefully we can keep it going and run the table for the rest of the year.”

Everybody else knew what it was. It was the fact that they had -- ahem -- kind of been challenged.

“When you have a feeling that you're pushing them back on their heels, it's a great feeling for any offensive lineman,” Stankiewitch said. “It's a great feeling for the offense as a whole. We knew we had to step up, and step up big in the fourth quarter. And that's what we did.”

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