A year later, the 84-year-old Paterno looks entirely different. He's finally fully recovered from a broken knee that he suffered at Wisconsin when he was 79 and from a hip injury he suffered when trying to show some of his players how to kick a football.
He's feel good, he feels healthy and, more importantly, he's giving off an entirely different vibe to his Nittany Lions.
"He sat us all down and said we're going to be better, he's going to be better, everything is going to be better," said senior running back Joe Suhey. We don't want another year like we did last year and we've worked hard so we can be better."
Suhey will be a big part in trying to fill the shoes of Evan Royster, who left Evan Royster left as the program's all-time leading rusher after three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Penn State was unable develop a ground game or put pressure on opposing offenses, main reasons for its 7-6 record in 2010. Suhey is more known for his work on special teams, blocking and catching passes out of the backfield, and will need to pick up the slack behind an offensive line that lost two seniors.
Penn State also will also need to see how good walk-on quarterback Matt McGloin is. He threw for 1,548 yards, 14 touchdowns and 9 interceptions in his last seven games, making him the team's most veteran quarterback, but most of that work came against below-average competition. The Nittany Lions also have Robert Bolden, the first true freshman quarterback ever to start the season opener in Paterno's long tenure, as well as junior Kevin Newsome and redshirt freshman Paul Jones in the mix.
"At quarterback, I think we'll be better," Paterno said. "Whether we're going to be good enough, I don't know. We had two, three kids that had good springs. Everybody seems to be enthused. The quarterbacks, they'll stop by the office every once in a while. I'll say, How you doing? Are your studies okay? That kind of stuff, but I think we're going to be better there."
The defense wasn't bad, finishing 35th in the nation overall, but finishing 101st in the nation in sacks and 75th in tackles for loss was very uncharacteristic. Eight starters return, including the entire secondary and three players on the defensive line, meaning that the unit has plenty of experience coming back. The key is that the defense, unlike last year, must step up when the offense struggles.
"I think we have a chance to have some people that can play well," Paterno said when asked about his secondary. "I don't think we played very well last year. I don't think I did a very good job coaching last year, to be frank with you. I've got to do a better job. Everybody's got to do a better job. We have to set maybe a little higher bar as far as our standard goes."
It's apparent that the Big Ten Conference wants to develop the Nittany Lions and the Badgers into an annual year-end rivalry, as the two schools will meet to close the regular season for the next three seasons. If this is going to be a traditional year-end rivalry, the Badgers have to start showing up, as the Nittany Lions have won the last two meetings by a combined score of 86-14.
Overall Record: Wisconsin leads 8-6-0
Record in Madison: Wisconsin leads 5-3-0
Last Meeting: Penn State won, 48-7, in Madison in 2008