Shipley, O-Line Improving

Though Penn State lost to Notre Dame last weekend, the rebuilt offensive line stepped up its play. New starting center A.Q. Shipley and company intend to keep it up when Youngstown State comes calling Saturday afternoon.

If any finger-pointing had gone on following Penn State's 41-17 loss at Notre Dame last Saturday, the one group spared would've been the offensive line. The Nittany Lions allowed just one sack, their first of the season, and opened holes for Tony Hunt to rush for 74 yards on 12 carries.

The ground game excelled, which was an improvement from the season opener against Akron, where Penn State was limited to just 76 rushing yards as a team. Hunt 48 yards on 14 carries.

PSU has replaced four of its five starters on the line, but center A.Q. Shipley says this team is no longer an inexperienced one, especially after facing a top-five opponent in the Fighting Irish.

“Coach [Joe] Paterno is a real big preacher, (saying]) you're only inexperienced as long as you're not playing,” Shipley said.

Shipley attributed the success partly to Notre Dame's schemes.

“I think just the fact that we were playing against a more conventional front,” Shipley said, pointing out that Akron ran a 3-5. “[Notre Dame] ran a normal 4-3 and that's what we're used to seeing.”

He added that the unit started coming together during last week's practice, saying that linemen began “getting a feel for each other.”

The line did make mistakes. One of the most noticeable was by Shipley, who was flagged for clipping on a screen pass to Hunt that had moved the ball to Notre Dame's 25 in the second quarter. It happened one series after the Irish had built to a 13-0 lead. Instead of scoring themselves, the Lions were eventually forced to punt.

“We don't think there was a clip but the call was made,” Shipley said. “You have to move on.”

Rather than point fingers, the team has looked at past Penn State squads for guidance.

Paterno cited the 1982 national championship team, which lost to Alabama 42-21. The leaders called the team together and they vowed to win out the rest of the schedule, which is exactly what the Lions did.

At Monday's practice, about 10 players addressed the team, including linemen Levi Brown and Shipley.

While the line did well against the familiar 4-3, Youngstown State brings a 3-4 into Beaver Stadium for Saturday's 3:30 kickoff. The Division I-AA Penguins represent a challenge. The Lions could overlook Youngstown State and on to their date with No. 1 Ohio State Sept. 23.

But PSU has already seen a Big Ten team fall to a I-AA school this season. Northwestern lost to New Hampshire last weekend.

Penn State also can look at it's own recent history for examples of stunning upsets. In the 2000 season opener, PSU lost to Toledo, 24-6.

“He's told us about that a lot even leading up to the Akron week,” Shipley said of Paterno. “He's stated in many different instances. … There's no room for error and you can't look past anybody.”

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