Penn State coach Joe Paterno unloaded on his offensive line after the Nittany Lions beat Illinois 26-12 at Beaver Stadium Saturday, repeatedly calling the unit lousy during his brief comments to the media. But Paterno didnt lay into the linemen in the locker room. Position coaches Dick Anderson and Bill Kenney did not, either.
They probably were [frustrated], but today the coaches didnt say anything to us after the game, redshirt junior tackle Chris Auletta said. The offensive line, we went in [a] room, we talked it out. Well go from there.
I think thats what you have to do sometimes, he added. Sometimes the coaches cant do anything about it. Sometimes the players have just got to get together and say, listen, this is it.
This is indeed a critical time for the Nittany Lion offensive line.
Saturdays showing against Illinois, where the PSU ground game managed 40 yards and the team posted 184 total yards, was the second straight poor showing for the front five. In a 17-10 loss to Michigan a week earlier, State gave up seven sacks, lost its top two quarterbacks to concussions and was held to negative rushing yardage for the first time in Paternos storied career.
It is one thing to have that kind of pratfall against a team that is now ranked No. 2 in the nation. It is quite another to struggle against the bumbling Illini, who came into this game giving up 314.7 yards per outing. Starting quarterback Anthony Morelli, coming off the concussion that knocked him out of the Michigan game, was sacked twice and hit often.
Asked if the Illinois game was a wake-up call, fifth-year senior left tackle Levi Brown, a team captain, shrugged.
Wake-up call? he said with a frustrated laugh. I mean, you can say that about a couple games this year. Its been kind of tough at times, but I think everyone knows we cant go out and perform like this and expect to win the rest of our games.
During the game, the staff attempted to shift personnel to improve the line. Senior left guard Robert Price was pulled in favor of redshirt sophomore Gerald Cadogan. To start the third quarter, struggling right tackle John Shaw was replaced by Auletta. Neither move made a major impact.
The linemen knew they did not play well. Which is why the meeting was called in the locker room. Auletta said Brown, right guard Rich Ohrnberger and center A.Q. Shipley did most of the talking.
I think it will improve, Auletta said. Everybodys just got to stop blaming each other and get going.
Asked to clarify, he added, When you get frustrated, you blame yourself. I think we just have to go out there and start playing.
Brown initially downplayed the meeting while talking to the media, saying it was held just to keep everybodys head up and just stuff so we can keep moving on.
Later, however, he spoke of the importance of handling this sticky situation internally.
On the offensive line, especially with everybody coming down on us, we have to have each others backs, and thats pretty much what I told them, Brown said. We have to be our brothers keeper in there. Nobody else is gonna support us, regardless of whether theyre on our team or anything like that. We have to look out for each other and just make sure we play within ourselves.
From Aulettas standpoint, one of the keys to improving is to work on the overall cohesiveness of the unit, and not just on the field. That should be easy enough now. The Penn State offensive linemen are not exactly the most popular guys in Happy Valley, so they might as well look to one another for support.
From now on, were gonna get better, and were gonna be a cohesive unit, Auletta said. Were gonna get better, were gonna hang out together, were gonna do things together, were gonna keep getting better until were the best offensive line in the Big Ten.