Key Time For Captains

With off-field issues swirling about the team, Connor and company are doing their best to keep the Nittany Lions focused on Wisconsin.

Is Penn State's football season in danger of coming unraveled? It might seem so given the losses to Michigan and Illinois and a recent flurry of legal and disciplinary activity. But senior captain Dan Connor believes the Nittany Lions can overcome their difficulties, provided they meet one key condition: they must stay focused.

“You're always going to have things popping up during a long season like this,” Connor said Tuesday morning during a hastily arranged conference call with reporters. “The thing right now is for us seniors, and primarily the captains, to keep the focus on each week and on football and on each game. Any distractions, especially at this point in the season, are going to take us back. We know as a senior class that we have to keep everyone's attention and keep everyone focused and working hard. We can't get sidetracked by anything off the field.”

In the past week, tailback Austin Scott was suspended indefinitely for breaking a team rule while freshmen Ryan Breen and Joseph Suhey were cited for underage drinking. The violations come on the heels of an August drinking incident that led Joe Paterno to suspend tight end Andrew Quarless and cornerback Willie Harriott. Two additional players - safety Anthony Scirrotto and defensive lineman Chris Baker - are still facing charges stemming from an alleged fight at an off-campus apartment last spring.

Connor said Paterno is “obviously not happy” after the recent upheaval. He added that the coach leans heavily on his captains to set a tone for the younger players and promote good off-field behavior.

“There's definitely a burden right now on the shoulders of me, [Terrell] Golden and [Anthony] Morelli to keep the team focused and make sure we don't have this stuff off the field,” he said. “We've got to stay focused, whether it's Saturday afternoon or Saturday night or a random night of the week. We really do have to keep the team focused, especially the younger guys who haven't been around enough to know how to handle themselves.”

This weekend's matchup with No. 19 Wisconsin should help the Nittany Lions reaffirm their priorities. Although the Badgers (5-1) are coming off an upset loss at Illinois, they are one of two ranked teams on Penn State's remaining schedule and as such represent a chance for the Lions to make an impression nationally.

Penn State may or may not see P.J. Hill on Saturday. Bothered by a pulled groin, the star running back gained only 83 yards last week in the 31-26 loss to the Fighting Illini. The Badgers are also hurting at wide receiver, with Paul Hubbard and Luke Swan injured and unavailable this week.

But despite Wisconsin's personnel losses, the Lions can't afford to take its offense lightly. Senior quarterback Tyler Donovan made that clear by throwing 49 times for a career-high 392 yards against the Illini.

“Their quarterback is obviously going to be a threat,” Connor said. “He threw for a bunch of yards in their last game. They've got a great receiver in their tight end [Travis] Beckum to go on top of one of the best running games in college football year in and year out. I think they've shown they can do a lot of different things on offense. It's going to be hard to face. It's not going to be one of those games where you can focus primarily on the run, because they can hurt you in the pass game, too. It's going to be tough to defend this team.”

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