Nittany Notes: Tough Week

Why were Penn State's practices so brutal this week? Who is the team's best ball-carrier? Why will Regis Philbin be dealing with a Spider Saturday? And who is going to fill the TBA spot on the Lions' 2008 schedule? Check it out.

Penn State coach Joe Paterno has seemed like a cool customer this week, as his Nittany Lions prepare to face Notre Dame at Beaver Stadium Saturday. But program observers say this has been one of the more intense few days of in-season practice the team has had in recent memory.

As we reported earlier this week, on Monday Paterno staged a brutal session, ending with three sets of “gasser” sprints.

“I can't recall us ever doing that during a game week,” an observer said. Another reported that several of Penn State's young offensive linemen struggled to make it through the sprints.

Things let up a bit the rest of the week, but not much.

“They got a good beating all week,” one observer said. “The good thing is everyone is healthy.”

Why has Paterno amped up the intensity this early in the season? Only he knows that, of course. But different observers felt a variety of factors played into it.

• Penn State's 59-0 win over Florida International was too easy, in the coach's eyes. Coupled with Notre Dame's 33-3 home loss to Georgia Tech — “Everyone thinks this is going to be a cakewalk,” an observer said — Paterno wants to make sure his team is ready to play Saturday.

• Paterno has repeatedly said he thinks he was outcoached by Notre Dame's Charlie Weis last season, when Penn State was hammered 41-17 in South Bend. This is not false modesty or falling on the sword for the entire team's issues, according to observers. “I think he was embarrassed,” one said. With the home-and-home series ending this season, Paterno realizes he'll probably never get another shot at Notre Dame or Weis, and he is intent on ending things on a positive note for the Lions.

• “All the extra stuff going on” has Paterno concerned, an observer said. The coach is a creature of habit. The pep rally Friday night and the late kick Saturday and all of the hype around the game have him nervous that the players will not focus. In such instances, he usually reacts by increasing the workload during the week.


When thinking of “green” these days, most Penn State fans' attention will be turned to the Fighting Irish. That, or what they are shelling out for tickets and hotel rooms.

But another “Green” really made an impact in practice earlier this week. While playing for the scout team, true freshman tailback Stephfon Green dominated a goal-line series against the Blue (first-team) defense.

Stephfon Green.

Green got the ball five times in the goal-line series and danced into the end zone on four of those carries. Despite playing behind a young, cobbled-together scout team offensive line, the wil-o'-the-wisp rookie could not be caught by a starting unit that is anything but short on speed.

“He is, far and away, the best back we have,” an observer said, referring to Green's abilities as a ball-carrier. “He’s lightning fast.”

Said another observer, “fans can watch the tape of the [FIU] game and see Austin [Scott] and [Rodney] Kinlaw both missed holes.” Another said that in practice, at least, Green “hits them much better.”

At 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, there are concerns of whether Green is durable enough to be a featured back, and whether he might be better off redshirting this season to add a bit of bulk. And several observers pointed out how well Scott blocked against FIU, an often-overlooked talent for PSU running backs.

No true freshmen played against FIU Saturday. But at his Tuesday press conference, Paterno said the staff is considering playing a handful of rookies. While he did not name names, you can bet Green is one of the youngsters under consideration.


Saturday's game will be carried by ESPN. This year, the network is having either a player or coach introduce the starting lineup for each team on its telecasts.

There will be a couple of twists Saturday.

TV talk-show host and Notre Dame fan supreme Regis Philbin will introduce the Fighting Irish.

Regis Philbin.

Penn State, meanwhile, will go with its own living legend.

Equipment coordinator and “unofficial team historian” Brad “Spider” Caldwell will handle the honors for the Nittany Lions. If given clearance, expect the sharp-witted Caldwell to unleash a couple of zingers during his introductions.


Penn State's 2008 non-conference schedule includes a game at Syracuse and … gulp … home tilts with Costal Carolina, Arkansas State and TBA. Given the less-than-powerful look of the latter two known opponents, many fans have been wondering how bad the Sept. 20 TBA game would be.

According to our sources, that opponent will be Temple. The two sides have agreed in principle to a deal, from what we've been told, and the contract should be signed soon.


About 50 recruits will be on hand for the game this weekend. But as of this writing only three were scheduled to be making official visits: receiver Deion Walker, safety D'Anton Lynn and lineman Dalton Freeman.


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