Kinlaw Avoiding Trouble

Penn State's senior tailback is side-stepping tough questions and defenders these days. Fresh off a career-high 168 rushing yards against Iowa, his focus is now on this week's tilt with Wisconsin.

Like everyone else associated with Penn State's suddenly wobbly football program, Rodney Kinlaw would rather talk about the games. The scandal fatigue that began setting in just as the latest round of rumors caught fire on the message boards was definitely in evidence during this week's conference calls with players. Kinlaw was understandably eager to steer the conversation back to this week's matchup — yes, there is a game in case you forgot — noting that "we just have to stay focused and concentrate on Wisconsin."

Fair enough. But while Kinlaw has been an innocent bystander, he and his fellow tailbacks haven't been unaffected by the problems some of their teammates have encountered. When his classmate Austin Scott was suspended indefinitely for an unspecified violation of team rules, Kinlaw became an even more significant player than he had been before.

The fifth-year senior capitalized last week, rushing for a career-high 168 yards against Iowa. He figures to get plenty of carries in Saturday's game against the Badgers, even with backup Evan Royster apparently ready to return after suffering a thigh injury last week. The coaches have also begun preparing freshman Stephfon Green for active duty after being forced to change their plans to hold him out.

While the changes in the backfield have been abrupt, they won't necessarily leave the Lions in worse shape than before. Scott, after all, was in the doghouse to begin with after his fumbles against Buffalo and Michigan. And Royster looks to be worthy of more carries after gaining 86 yards against Iowa. As Joe Paterno said Tuesday, "I think we'll be OK at that tailback spot."

If so, it will likely be because Kinlaw rises to the occasion. The South Carolina native has never really been regarded by Penn State watchers as an every-down tailback, maybe because he has always had someone ahead of him, or maybe because he stands just 5-foot-9, 199 pounds and doesn't look like he's able to absorb a game's worth of punishment. But Kinlaw believes he's ready to do the job.

"I kind of see myself as the primary back now," he said.

Heading into the second half of the season, Kinlaw has 547 yards and ranks sixth in the Big Ten with an average of 91.2 yards a game. He knows he isn't the biggest running back in the conference, but he insists he's got the durability he needs to carry, say, 28 times, as he did against Iowa.

"Even though I'm small, I really don't take that many big hits," he said. "I'm able to get out of the way of a lot of it, so it doesn't really affect me. I didn't even know I had that many carries at the end of the [Iowa] game."


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