Kinlaw Stepping Up

Not even the starter at the beginning of the 2007 season, Penn State's fifth-year senior tailback is looking to go out in grand (as in 1,000 yards) fashion.

Did anybody expect Rodney Kinlaw to surpass 1,000 yards in his final season at Penn State? It's unlikely. Going into the season, he was regarded by many if not most Nittany Lions fans as a change-of-pace back, destined to play sporadically as a backup to Austin Scott.

But with four games remaining heading into Saturday's clash with No. 1 Ohio State, Kinlaw is poised to reach that noteworthy plateau. He has 728 yards to rank sixth in the Big Ten and is averaging a healthy 5.2 yards per carry.

After four years of false starts, injuries and dues-paying, Kinlaw is relishing his turn in the spotlight. Capping his career with a 1,000-yard season would be more than just a nice grace note.

“It would mean a lot,” Kinlaw said. “I wasn't the starter at the beginning of the season. But I got more playing time and waited for my opportunity.”

It hasn't been an easy road. Kinlaw was slowed by injuries early in his career, including a torn ACL that ended his freshman season. When he got back on the practice field the following year, he hit another roadblock: Joe Paterno.

It would be an understatement to report that Paterno didn't like Kinlaw's running style. “It used to drive me nuts,” the coach said. “He didn't have any patience and was always looking to bounce it outside and outrun everybody, which he did in high school.”

Kinlaw needed time and repetitions to get those tendencies out of his system. While he was recovering from his knee injury and relearning how to run, Tony Hunt was tightening his grip on the starting tailback spot.

But Kinlaw eventually learned to exhibit more patience. He's now at the point where the coaching staff feels comfortable giving him the ball repeatedly. He carried 73 times in the Lions' past three games, and Paterno has been satisfied with his play of late. Kinlaw, he said, “has turned out to be a good, solid back.”

The Lions will need a good, solid back Saturday. And even that might not be enough to poke holes in Ohio State's defense. The Buckeyes are allowing 7.8 points and 62.3 rushing yards a game. Only two opponents — Washington and Michigan State — have scored in double figures against them, and neither of those teams were able to break out of the teens.

The Lions have averaged 33.7 points in their past three games, victories over Iowa, Wisconsin and Indiana. They will look to Kinlaw and quarterback Anthony Morelli to spearhead another solid showing against Ohio State. But whether Penn State has the manpower to overcome what looks to be the best defense in college football is an open question.

“It's going to be another tough game,” Kinlaw said. “We need to be ready to play Saturday.”


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