NITTANY NOTES: Pressing Questions

As Penn State prepares to close out the 2008 regular season against Michigan State, get answers to pressing questions about Evan Royster, the offensive line, Josh Gaines, Joe Paterno and more.

With the Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl bid on the line, Penn State is preparing to close out the 2008 season with a Senior Day clash against Michigan State. Get the latest on a variety of questions regarding the squad.

What is the situation with the offensive line?

"I think the line is fine," an observer said. "This past week Rich [Ohrnberger] missed some practices for a personal matter, but it wasn't expected that this would disrupt the line. The interior needs to just get back to its game. They've had some misreads on shifts, but all in all they adjusted well [to Indiana]."

Early this week the linemen have focused on several fundamental drills. "They'll get in a good amount of 1v1 work, rush pickup reps with D-linemen and footwork. I suspect they'll get some 7-on-9 reps in, but the staff wants everyone healthy for this game," an observer said.

What's up with Royster? Why only 12 carries vs. Indiana?

"I don't think anyone on this team thought they'd need Royster to beat Indiana," according to one practice observer. "The staff went into this game hoping to use him sparingly in order to keep him as fresh as possible for Michigan State. I think the coaches are happy they managed to limit him to a few carries."

As another observer said, "[The staff] would have been blasted if it opened up Evan and he came away with an ankle injury or worse, right? It was a good strategic move to save him for basically the conference title game. Plus, I think they wanted to get Stephfon [Green] some added work. But he saw fewer carries than Evan."

What is the focus for the team this week?

The offensive side of the ball is "putting in extra work on getting off the blocks to pick up the rush and managing breakdowns in the pocket." As one observer explained, "Daryll [Clark] and the line watched film of the breakdowns [against Indiana]. A lot of the issues have been in the interior, but Daryll's tried to make something out of nothing in some pretty bad situations — against both Iowa and Indiana.

"Rather than force it, he either has to hit a check-down or get rid of it. He wants to make the play. I mean, he's got good legs, but he's not that athletic to deliver a ball with two guys knocking him in the chest."

Another observer told us, "They guys are likely going to see some ball drills, particularly strip drills."

On the defensive side of the ball, the front seven are focusing on run-stopping this week. "You can't ignore [Brian] Hoyer, because he can definitely make plays, but [Javon] Ringer is their bread and butter. This is going to be a physical game and the coaches are working [Mark] Rubin back in essentially as that fourth linebacker."

What is the mood of the team?

By all accounts, the players know they have a lot to play for. As one observer said, "There is a ton on the line here — a Big Ten title, a Rose Bowl trip. But you know what the guys are talking about most? Sending the seniors out with a win. That is what the players are really talking about. I mean these guys can go out with a 25-2 home record. That's pretty damn good."

As another observer explained, "I think everyone is excited. They control their own destiny. They know they need to get it done. They want to just close it out. A couple guys have talked about this being the 'immortalizing' game. If they win this game, they win the Big Ten title and get '2008' up on the luxury boxes. A lot of the guys would like to literally leave their mark on Beaver Stadium like that."

How is Josh Gaines' ankle injury?

The defensive end saw limited time against the Hoosiers and is expected to receive added rest this week in the hope he'll be ready for a heavier load against MSU.

"Coach [Larry] Johnson really wants him back in the rotation," an observer said. "He fits in well with certain sets and provides consistent pressure to help collapse the pocket so a guy like [Aaron] Maybin can break through. He wants to get back in, but it all depends on how comfortable he is on that ankle."

Is this Joe Paterno's last home game?

"Yes. It's his last home game this season. I guess you mean forever? [Laughing.] We haven't heard anything that would indicate that," as one observer put it.

"He's talking about getting his hip fixed so he can be ready for the bowl in time and is talking about next year," another observer said. "I don't think he would mislead [the players] like that." is THE source for exclusive, inside coverage of Penn State football.


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