The Nittany Lions are preparing for their Big Ten opener against Northwestern in Evanston this week. In his weekly press conference, the coach discussed the Wildcats, his offensive and defensive lines, the punt return game, and even had some fun joking around with the reporters on hand.





1. Are you eager to see how your team stacks up against a Big Ten team?

Joe is anxious to see which players get better and which don't. PSU would like to prove to the Big Ten that it can still play with them. Last year, the team lost some games it could have won with a play here or there. Joe is just anxious to play. He likes the team and the coaching staff. He's eager to play each week.

2. Jimmy Shaw's status this week as well as Levi Brown?

Joe didn't know that Levi Brown had a problem. He had a wisdom tooth removed. Jim Shaw should be ok to play this week.

3. Will E.Z. Smith's role change in the coming weeks?

Joe is going to play E.Z. Smith this week but he won't start. Smith has to prove to Joe that he is better than the two kids ahead of him before he can start. Anything that happened in the past has no bearing on E.Z.'s current situation. It's strictly dependent on how Smith practices and performs in games.

4. Does it ever cross your mind in a spare moment that you're on the verge of your 100th victory as a member of the Big Ten?

Joe wasn't even aware he was close to 100 wins since joining the league. Joe is thinking about nothing but Northwestern. He goes to bed at night and thinks about what their defense will do. He thinks about the freshman running back that he hasn't seen enough tape of to know how to stop. Their quarterback is also having a great year. A win would be nice, regardless of whether it's the 10th Big Ten win or the 100th.

5. Have you made a decision about Dan Connor for the weekend?

Joe isn't going to tell the media what he's going to do. He hasn't told the squad or Dan what he's going to do yet. He hasn't told the university what he's going to do, and they have been very good to Joe on this issue. They have allowed him to give out the punishment that he feels best. Despite what has been written by some people, there is no friction between Joe and the university administration. Dan Connor's situation is similar to E.Z. Smith. He has to prove he's better than the kids ahead of him before he can get on the field a lot.

6. Is Tim Shaw's best spot at inside linebacker or outside where he is now?

Joe thinks Shaw is doing really well where he is. He's a good athlete, and they're trying to get the most they can out of him. Joe sees no reason to move Tim from the outside at this point.

7. In August, you seemed pleased with the way Isaac Smolko responded to your challenges. How has he done since?

Smolko dropped a touchdown pass, came off the field and Joe chewed him out. He's on the verge of becoming a big-time tight end, but he has to do things better in the clutch. Outside of Joe himself, everybody drops passes. When Smolko gets an opportunity to show off, he has to show off if he wants to become a really good tight end.

8. In an ideal world, how would you like to see the nonconference schedule set up?

Joe has never thought about it. The team plays who it plays. Hopefully, the players show up each week and play the best they can play regardless of the opponent.

9. Talk about what you saw in Tim Shaw in high school and did you expect him to be so effective as a linebacker?

Tim's a really good athlete. They had him in summer football camp. The coaching staff worked awfully hard to get him. He was a recruit they felt very strongly about, and he's turned out to be a fine football player. You'd have to ask Ron Vanderlinden for more details. He was very high on him. He's one of those kids you like because he's an outstanding student in addition to a great athlete. As an individual playing a particular position...he's a good football player, he's a great kid and an excellent student.

10. Do you think a win this weekend could serve as a springboard for the rest of the season?

Not really. It's a football game. If you're good enough, you win. They're going out to Northwestern and it's going to be a big challenge for PSU. Whether you're on the road or at home, if you're good, you play well. If you're lousy, you don't. So many of the losses in the recent past came down to a couple of plays. If they are able to put that behind them and do some things in the clutch, they'll be OK.

11. Do you see the tailback rotation remaining the same?

Joe didn't know they had a rotation. Tony Hunt and Scott, Rodney Kinlaw. .. Joe thought Rodney would do some things a little better than he did last week. Joe doesn't envision any kind of rotation. They're going to play the kids that can make plays in the clutch.

12. Can anything be made of the fact that Northwestern gave up 773 yards of offense to Arizona State last week?

Joe was very surprised by that. By the time Joe got their game tape, it was late Sunday night and he looked at some of it before talking to the coaches on Monday morning. He was shocked Arizona State had that many yards. He did see Arizona State's game against LSU and noticed they had a lot of skill talent. Northwestern will be a challenge for Penn State on Saturday. Randy Walker is a good coach, and PSU only scored seven points against them last year. Joe is going to look at what his team can do, not what Arizona State did.

13. Evaluate Michael Robinson's improvement.

Michael has played really well. He's been solid. He's thrown the ball well. Joe thinks Robinson is a big time quarterback right now. The team's problem is not necessarily Michael Robinson's play. The offensive line has to become more consistent. The tight ends have to catch the ball better. The whole offensive operation has been solid. Give credit to Galen and Jay. They've taken a lot of criticism and now they deserve some credit. The playcalling has been good, the offense has shown balance.

No one mentions the turnovers. That's what is really bugging Joe about the offense. They had three turnovers against CMU and that normally loses you the game.

14. Are you concerned about the offense having so many short scoring drives?

If they were going four yards, four yards, five yards, the media would ask why the offense hasn't made any big plays. The team happens to have some guys who can make big plays. You're out there trying to score points. It doesn't matter if they come from sustained drives or short ones. You're just trying to win a football game.

15. Will you reevaluate Calvin Lowry's role on punt returns given the turnovers?

The coaching staff has talked about it, but they have had three returns over 30 yards. Calvin has done a good job. Joe wishes he had more speed. The team has some kids that are faster, but they don't catch the ball as well. Penalties on roughing the punter, when you're aggressive, that's going to happen. Lowry's fine.

16. Talk about Northwestern's offense and particularly RB Tyrell Sutton.

Sutton is quick as a cat. He's out of Ohio and PSU looked at him but worried about his size. Northwestern's a very clever football team. Randy Walker has done a great job. The quarterback does a good job running the option and in the passing game. They're similar to some of the teams PSU has already played. People don't realize how good the Central Michigan quarterback was. He was a really good athlete. Big, strong. He was tough to defend.

17. Are you still concerned about fatigue on defense?

You still have to be careful, but PSU didn't play that many plays on defense last week. Joe thinks the defense is OK. They just have to make sure they're careful how much they practice.

18. In the past couple of years your team has had troubles on the road. Do you dread going on the road?

You just have to go out and play. When you're in college, you only have so many games to play. No matter how you frame the question, you just have to go out and play. Whether it's Ryan Field or Michigan or Ohio State, it's a football field. 100 yards. The crowd is going to be against you on the road and with you at home. Joe hopes his feelings will rub off on the players. Joe doesn't dread going on the road. He looks forward to it.

19. Talk about the play of your defensive line.

There are three or four really good football players on that defensive line. Joe thinks they aren't doing enough to promote Tamba Hali on a national level. He's a heck of a football player. Jay Alford has such a nice, easygoing personality that people don't realize how good he is. Joe has been reluctant to praise Scott Paxson due to the off the field problems he has had, but Paxson is really good as well. Matt Rice is right there with the other three, although he needs to turn it up one notch.

20. The field is being replaced at Beaver Stadium. Was the field in bad shape and did you talk to anyone on the grounds crew about it?

Joe didn't even know they were going to replace it until yesterday when they were already started. The practice field? If there's something wrong there, Joe is on the phone immediately, but he doesn't have much to do with the stadium field. Penn State has always had the best grass field in the country. With the university's tradition in agronomy, they should have a better field, and something is being done about it. Joe has not made a phone call about the field because there are people working on it who know what they're doing.


1. What was it like to have to reclaim your starting spot and what was preseason like?

It was tough, but sometimes you have to overcome some obstacles to get where you want to be. Coach Paterno does everything for a reason. He lets the players know that no spot is guaranteed. You have to work hard every week and earn your playing time.

2. How do you think the line has performed so far?

Tyler thinks they've done well, but there are still some things they have to improve. He thinks that they are improving from week to week.

3. The offense has only scored seven points against NW in each of the past two games.

Last year, they had a great defensive tackle in Castillo, so he was a great concern. To be honest, the team hasn't looked at Northwestern film yet this week. They will watch the tape and then figure out what they can do this week to put some points on the board.

4. Talk about Michael Robinson's progression.

Mike's playing really well. He's poised and brings a lot of leadership to the huddle. This year, he's the quarterback, not shifting to other positions, so he's more comfortable knowing he's only going to play quarterback.

5. Do you have a chance to go fishing during the season?

There's not much time during the season. The team has Sundays off, but Tyler spends those with his family on home football weekends. He does fish during the spring and summer, but it's football season now, and there's nothing better than football season.


1. What improvement have you seen from Tamba Hali?

Constant work ethic. He has definitely risen to the occasion. He puts a lot of pressure on himself, and it's an honor to play opposite of him. His biggest attribute is his work ethic.

2. What has made the defense so successful against the spread offense?

The defensive speed. They really worked on that during the offseason and pride themselves on being a fast defense.

3. PSU has won five games in a row for the first time since 1999. How has that affected the team's morale?

The stop at Indiana was a mental stop for PSU. They wanted to change and they needed to do whatever was necessary to make that happen. From working hard in the weight room to working hard mentally and in the spring, they carried all of it over into the season this year with the idea of changing the team's fortunes.

4. Are you tired of playing mobile quarterbacks or do you like it?

Matt sees a mobile quarterback everyday in practice. It's part of the game. It's a challenge and one that Matt enjoys.

5. Is there a camaraderie among the team going on road trips?

Matt loves going on the road. He loves playing at home in front of the Penn State fans, but going on the road is kind of like going to war for the team. They take it very seriously. Matt took the losses to Northwestern over the past two years personally, and now he wants to go out there and get a win.

6. How does Tamba playing well help you on the other side?

It helps a lot because the quarterback has to run to Matt's side. He has nowhere else to go. The ends are confident that Scott Paxson and Jay Alford will clog the middle, so if the ends do their job, the quarterback will not have anywhere to run.

7. Does playing against Central Michigan's offense help you prepare for Northwestern's offense?

Matt thinks playing Central Michigan is a big help because it gave them a look at the various formations and schemes they have to defend when facing the spread. He thinks the defense will be better prepared for Northwestern because of the experience against Central Michigan.


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