Lion QB Cool Under Pressure

Michael Robinson knows Penn State didn't put many minds at ease with its performance last Saturday against South Florida. All those skeptics? Still there.

If anything, their numbers have grown after a ragged performance in which the Nittany Lion offense handled the ball carelessly and managed only two touchdowns against a defense that gave up an average of 32 points a game last season.

Robinson and quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno have been the focal point of fan unrest after the fifth-year senior quarterback threw for only 90 yards, tossed an interception and fumbled twice. With the season less than a week old, there have already been pleas for Penn State to audition backup Anthony Morelli for a series or two. But Robinson sounded unfazed Wednesday morning as he took a break from his preparations for Saturday's game against Cincinnati.

“I knew it was going to be like that,” he said. “That's something that always happens. What can I say? I don't know that the people who all of a sudden are switching over ever had that much confidence in me to begin with. They have their opinion. I'm just glad they're not the coach.”

The man to whom Robinson really does answer -- Joe Paterno -- had a different opinion of the quarterback's performance against South Florida. On Tuesday, Paterno said that Robinson “had a pretty good game.”

“There are a couple of things he can do better,” Paterno said. “He was a little nervous. I think he went into the game thinking he had to win the game by himself. I think he has that behind him.”

Robinson said he's working on “ball security” in practice this week. He said that in drills, players will try to strip the ball from him, adding that Jay Paterno will sometimes try to swat it out of his hands even when he's not scrimmaging.

“I didn't get hit that much in practice in the preseason,” Robinson said. “Maybe the first couple of hits, I wasn't really used to it at first. But I've been in big games, I've taken big hits. Fumbling the ball is something that we just can't have.”

Turnovers were a big problem in the opener against South Florida. The Lions fumbled four times, losing two. Those miscues, coupled with Robinson's interception, brought an end to three possessions. The Lions ran only 54 offensive plays in their opener, too few to get everyone involved, or to delve too deeply into the playbook.

Robinson figures Penn State only emboldened Cincinnati with its performance on opening day. He said he expects the Bearcats to be aggressive on defense. Cincinnati coach Mark Dantonio was Ohio State's defensive coordinator from 2001-03 and is familiar with many of Penn State's players, including Robinson.

“I think they're going to come after us and challenge us,” Robinson said. “They probably don't think we proved that we can throw the ball as well as we need to. ... So I think they're going send a lot of blitzes after us and play man [coverage] on the outside. We're going to have to make some big plays to back them off a bit.”

Robinson sounded confident Penn State can capitalize on an aggressive defensive scheme. He believes the Lions can make the kind of plays that will force opposing safeties away from the line of scrimmage.

Penn State wasn't able to do that the past two seasons. Its playmaking deficiencies contributed to a dismal 2004 campaign in which the team finished last in the Big Ten in scoring.

The Lions' struggles in their 2005 opener bore a disquieting similarity to those past difficulties, leading to a spate of gloomy predictions for the rest of the season. But while Robinson said he understands fans' frustration, he hasn't let it affect his outlook.

“We got a win,” he said. “It might not have been as big a win as we would have wanted it to be, but it's a win. We have a great defense that always keeps us in games. We just have to be more consistent. There's nothing more I can say about that. I know the fans are expecting a little more, but we watched the tape and we were a block here, a non-fumble there, from blowing the game out and not having any questions about the offense.”

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