JEFF NELSON: Welcome to our weekly teleconference with coach Paterno and we’ll start our questions.
Q. Joe, you’re two-thirds of the way through your season. Is your team about where you thought it would be?
COACH PATERNO: Oh, I don’t know where we thought we’d be. I was hoping we’d be pretty good. I think we’re getting to be pretty good. I’m certainly not unhappy with where we are.
But we still have a ways to go. There’s some things we’re not doing well. Obviously the blocked punts bothered me. We wasted some opportunities.
But I think overall it’s about — we’ve probably done as well as we could have, considering some of the positions we went into, which were inexperience, the injuries to Lee and Bowman and those kinds of things. But I think overall we did probably as well as we could.
Q. You just mentioned Navorro Bowman. He seems to be one of the most versatile linebackers you’ve had in recent years. How important is he to your defense, and have you talked to him much over the season about keeping his focus, given some of the things he’s dealing with?
COACH PATERNO: I’m not quite sure what you’re talking about, “dealing with”.
Q. I mean the probation thing, the offseason, stuff like that. I know you talked with him before the season.
COACH PATERNO: Hopefully that’s behind him. But you say one of the most versatile. You guys have short memories. Posluszny wasn’t bad. And Lee, until he got hurt, wasn’t bad. I think Bowman’s in that class. I think Bowman’s a fine linebacker.
Obviously losing some games early in the year, he wasn’t in quite the kind of conditioning you would want him in. That’s one of the reasons why I keep him in the game a little longer than maybe I would have, because I just think he needs to get where he’s going to have — we’re going to be in some tough games where it’s not going to be quite as — he might not be quite as comfortable as he’s been, and people start taking more notice of him and doing some things to make it a more physical game for him.
So I think that there’s no question he’s a fine linebacker. He’s one of the better linebackers in the country. And I hope we can keep him healthy.
Q. What were some of your impressions of Pat Fitzgerald when he was a linebacker there at Northwestern?
COACH PATERNO: Darn good. We had our troubles with Northwestern out there when Fitzgerald was there. In fact, Ron Vanderlinden, who works with our linebackers now, was coaching at Northwestern at that time. He was assistant coach out there before he went to Maryland as a head coach.
And that’s where I first started to wonder who was coaching the linebackers at Northwestern. When I had a position opened, I went after him, when Ron went to Maryland, I went after him right away. Fitzgerald, he’s a great guy for college football.
He was a heck of a competitor. Smart. Tough. He’s going into the Hall of Fame this December. And we’re fortunate that there’s going to be some Penn State going in. Kurt Warner is going in as a player. Jimmy Weaver, who played for us for a while, got banged up, was the son of Manny Weaver who was a high school coach in Harrisburg and a Penn Stater. And Pat’s going in. He may be one of the youngest players to ever go in, I don’t know.
But he was a heck of a football player. Smart, tough, the whole business. You knew when he decided to coach he’d be a heck of a coach.
Q. After the game in Michigan Saturday some of your players said you told them before that they didn’t understand yet how good they could be. As a coach, how do you know when a team finally does understand that or does get that?
COACH PATERNO: I wish I could tell you. I’ve been around a lot of football teams. And you get a feel for things. The thing I have worried about with our kids going in in certain games is the leadership of some of the older guys, because so many of those kids have not been in really tough games.
I think it’s a credit to Clark, and we mentioned Bowman. Lee, who is on the sideline all the time. And Odrick, who doesn’t really get the kind of credit he should. And Landolt, I think they’re as good in their positions as anybody.
So you just get a feel the way they practice, their reaction to each other, their reaction with the coaches, reaction with me. And sometimes you say to yourself: Hey, these guys, they can be pretty darned good. And I felt that way going into Michigan. I felt we were about ready to play the kind of football game that they could walk away from and feel pretty good about themselves.
Q. You didn’t have a punt blocked, I don’t think Jeremy had one blocked for 130 straight attempts. You’ve had two now. What’s, from your perspective, what different is going on this season so far than maybe in the past?
COACH PATERNO: Well, the one with Iowa was a fluke. They weren’t even trying. They were in what we call a punt safe. It was at mid-field, and they didn’t know whether we might fake it or not.
Because we had the fake earlier in the year when Bailey ran for about 15 yards. So they just came, somebody just blew the assignment. And I won’t get into who blew it, that’s not important. And they came in and blocked the punt and got a great bounce, picked it up, ran it in for touchdown. That doesn’t happen very often.
But once he get something blocked like that, everybody examines everything you’re doing. They figure, hey, we can get one. We can get one.
And I think we spent a lot of time on punt protection because I was worried about that, and I think that we may have gotten Boone into a situation where he had had so much practice, got a little bit careless, because we really — that should not have been blocked. It should not have been blocked. He was just a little bit too long in his steps and he started to kick the ball away from some people and then see some other people and kicked it right into the block.
And that’s not — I don’t mean to put the blame on Boone, because I think we could have done a better job on it. I’m concerned about that. I’m concerned — each game we go in there I’m more worried about the kicking game.
We go into the Northwestern game, Northwestern had a couple of kicks run back. But in the clutch, when they had to get it done, they blocked the punt. They blocked the punt and went on and won the game, made a great comeback against a team that was playing really well, Indiana at the time. I think they were down 28-3, something like that, 29-3, went on to win it.
The blocked punt had a lot to do with it. So we’re going to spend a lot of time on the punting game.
Q. Last week a great win over Michigan. Next week a very much anticipated home game against Ohio State. How do you expect your team leaders on the field to handle this week as far as making sure the guys are focused?
COACH PATERNO: Well, you know, you bring up a scenario that I don’t think’s going to be, will be relevant to what where we are. We’ve got to play Northwestern. I haven’t even thought about the game after that one.
And hopefully we haven’t — Northwestern’s — we talked about Fitzgerald. He’s a heck of a competitor. His kids are playing with enthusiasm, tough, and making plays when they have to. They’re big play opportunists. And a fine quarterback and two receivers that catch everything that’s around them.
And No. 12 and No. 85, and I mentioned the kicking game, they’ve been up and down a little bit on that. But in the clutch they’ve made some big plays in there in their kicking game. We’re going to have to stay in focus on Northwestern. The question is getting better and maybe hopefully we can beat them. Nothing to do with what comes after it.
Q. You talked a little bit about Pat Fitzgerald already. But when he got the job at Northwestern, he got it under some extremely tough circumstances. I’m just wondering how impressed you have been with the job he’s done to keep him as competitive as they have been?
COACH PATERNO: I said it. I said I think he’s done a great job. I think he’s done a great job. The reference you make, the unfortunate death of his predecessor, was, yeah, I think that was tough and obviously he was close to and his love of Northwestern, his alma mater.
I’m talking about Fitzgerald, and the way that whole circumstances had developed. I think he went in there and he felt he could get the job done and he could do something good for his alma mater and in particular their football program. And that’s what he’s done. That’s what he’s done.
He’s gone out and he’s got some kids that believe in what Northwestern’s all about and they’re playing awfully well. They’re playing hard. Playing tough.
Q. Joe, I was a little surprised to hear you say Odrick doesn’t get the credit he should. You were talking about leadership. Did you mean as a leader or as a player, or both?
COACH PATERNO: As a football player. I think he’s a heck of a football player. He’s a heck of a leader in practice. I think he’s a leader in the game. Makes plays when they have to be made. I just don’t think some of the kids have gotten quite the credit they should get. I don’t think Clark’s gotten anywhere near the kind of credit he should have after the season he had last year and the kind of season he’s having this year. And we’ve talked about Bowman. I think Bowman was the same way. Bowman was hurt by the fact that he didn’t play early.
But Odrick is really a big-time football player and he’s got the things that you’re suggesting in the way of leadership qualities as well.
Q. So Northwestern’s defense, is this the defense you expect to really flood the box and commit to the run like some of the other defenses you faced here, or do you think they might roll back in coverage like some other defenses have against you?
COACH PATERNO: I haven’t got the slightest idea.
Q. Wonder where you stand health-wise at right tackle and where is DeOn’tae Pannell? Is he in the mix still?
COACH PATERNO: Pannell is okay. He’s not 100 percent. But he can certainly — he can go longer without that ankle starting to bother him. He’s certainly in the mix. McCormack’s okay now. So McCormack and Poti will probably fight it out for the right tackle spot, and we’ll keep Pannell over on the left because it’s a little easier with that left ankle bumped up for him to push off his right foot when he has to pass protect on the left side.
So that’s the reason we moved him over to the left side until his ankle is 100 percent. But I think we’re moving it — I think we’ve made progress. I think we’re going to be about as healthy as we have been all year in this game. I’m not so sure about Green and that bothers me a little bit.
But other than that, I think we’re in pretty good shape.
Q. Two years ago you did something that Penn State hadn’t done in almost like 20 years. Brian Norwood, I know, had a help recruiting McCormack and Poti, junior college kids. I know you preferred to bring kids out of high school. But can you kind of mention what they’ve done, have they lived up to being the first JC guys in like 20 years, and did maybe they open the door a little bit if you had a particular need at a position to maybe consider bringing in another junior college kid in the future?
COACH PATERNO: What are you talking about? What did you say about Brian Norwood? What did Brian Norwood used to do?
Q. I think he was involved with —
COACH PATERNO: I thought you were talking about one of his boys. We’ve had junior college kids before. Rich Marty came from Nashville Community College, turned out to be heck of a football player.
He has a boy playing for us, came as a walk-on and a kid as highly respected as high school linebacker as anybody in the country down from Louisiana where Rich lives down in New Orleans. And Mike, unfortunately, got hurt early in the year in preseason and hasn’t had a chance to show people how good he is. And then we had Alberto, was our place kicker, was a junior college kid. So we’ve had some junior college kids.
You’ve got to get a kid that’s a good fit for us. We’re not looking for guys that are jumping into junior colleges just because they want to stay eligible in order to get themselves ready for pro football. But we’ve got to look for kids who want to come and go to class and do a good job and Poti and McCormack have both done a good job in those areas. They’re both fine people and they’ll graduate and whether they’re good enough to be pro football players, that’s up to somebody else to make that decision, but they’re going to graduate and that to me is important.
Q. What gives you the impression that some of your guys aren’t getting the credit they deserve? You’ve often said you don’t read the paper.
COACH PATERNO: I don’t read the papers. But when somebody asks me about Odrick this or somebody about that or Clark, you know, I come to these meetings and you guys start asking me about a lot of other people and I get the feeling that just as we went into Michigan that our guys had to show, Clark had to show that he could compare to a couple of freshmen.
Whether you guys know it or not you guys have a little bit of prejudice and it shows.
Q. Quarless has had a nice year for you. Could you look back at his career; was there a point where you thought maybe he wasn’t going to be able to stick it out here given some of the issues that he had?
COACH PATERNO: Sure there was. I think we’ve gone over it about 50 times, haven’t we? Quarless was a kid that was a little spoiled, came in here. He was a gifted athlete, cut some classes, got himself in a situation in a preseason practice where he was late. But he grew up and obviously he’s doing well academically and he’s doing well on the football field.
Q. Can you talk to Graham Zug’s development and, secondly, the importance that walk-ons have had on your program?
COACH PATERNO: Walk-ons have always been a real strong part of our program. In fact, we had some bad news last week when Charlie Roslavitch, the kid from the hard core region, never played high school football. He was 145, 150 pounds when he went into the service, came out of the service was 270 pounds, walked on, made our football team. He was in that automobile accident with the two, the parents who were killed, the man lost the car, Charlie and his wife went to the hospital.
But the man with them was killed and there were two kids in the other car who survived but their parents were both killed.
So Charlie, go way back to walk-ons. They’ve been great. Now back to Zug, big walk on, strong Penn State family. If you said to me when he first came in how good is he going to be, I would say nice rangy kid, tough. Wish he had another step of speed. Let me see him for a while. And he’s gotten better and better and right now he’s doing a really good job.
Now, in all fairness to everybody concerned, Zug has been given a lot more opportunities because people are scared to death of Moye and Powell and so Zug can get in there and do some things and boy he certainly has come through for us. He’s a good football player. I like Zug for a lot of reasons. He’s a heck of a practice player and he does everything the way that you would want it done.
Q. Any prognosis on the injury of Stephfon Green and how you will handle it going forward?
COACH PATERNO: Handle what?
Q. Stephfon Green’s injury and how you might handle it?
COACH PATERNO: I thought you were talking about our punter. Well, we’ll do what we’ll do last week. We’ve got Beachum ready to play some. Carter will be another week along, and we’ve got Royster.
We put a couple formations in there where if we got in a jam we carried the ball a couple times in a single back situation. So we are trying to be ready for another injury, basically.
I think we’re okay if the guys we have all stay healthy and Carter comes along, gets a little better, physically better.
I think we’re okay. But we won’t do too much different than we did last week in that sense because of the type of plays and because of the defense we’re going to see and because of the match-ups that we may get. We may decide to emphasize one part of the game a little differently. But as far as the people who are going to be involved in it, those people will be the same guys.
Q. (Off microphone).
COACH PATERNO: You mean as far as what we’re going to do?
COACH PATERNO: Well, Royster’s been such a good football player. I’d hate to come in and say, well, we’re going to take Royster out to give somebody — if that’s what you’re driving out. I don’t know.
Sure, it’s a game-to-game situation. If we get in there where we have to throw the ball more than we’d like to, we’ve got to throw it. Now, does that mean we’re going to play with more four white-outs than we would if we were determined that we felt strongly that we should be running the ball and could run it, yeah, that will have an impact on it and it goes week-to-week.
And, again, this is Tuesday. I got the tapes Sunday and Monday from Northwestern, just to get the general feel for the football team. But for me to tell you we think we’re better here than the guy they have there, I haven’t had a chance to go over enough tape for me to tell you that.
Q. Can you talk about Kafka and the uniqueness of Northwestern’s offense that has created couple of shoot-outs in this series over the years?
COACH PATERNO: Kafka has been there for a while. He may be a fifth year kid, I’m not sure. He knows what the game is all about. And they play with a lot of no backs. When I say, they’ll play with an empty back field a lot. And it’s a short passing game and a clever passing game. They do a lot of things that are different. Maybe not as much different as how they do it. They play so fast.
They were averaging, I think, almost 90 plays a game on offense. You take — we’re averaging, if we give them maybe 68 or 70. Most people we played against — last week, I think Michigan had 70, 71 scrimmage plays. And I think we had 68, 69, something like that.
But you look at the Indiana/Northwestern breakdown, Northwestern had something like 90 something plays and Indiana had 50 — 45. I’m not sure. You look at Northwestern in a previous game, same thing, 90 some plays.
So they play very fast. They’re very, very positive about what they do. And Kafka is the guy that runs the show on it. So they’re a challenge. They’re a real challenge, because they’ve been great-late-in-the-game-play teams because they wear you down and their ability to execute when they go fast.
Q. Can you talk about Beachum? He’s played in every game since he’s been here. What kind of progress has he made and what’s the difference between the fullback and tail back for him?
COACH PATERNO: Beachum actually was a great linebacker in high school. We thought he might be a great linebacker. So he’s a good all-around — he’s a football player. I guess that sounds trite, but he’s a football player. He’s smart.
You put him at tail back, he understands what the tail back — the type of running a little bit more patient, wait for a crack. Gets the crack. Move him up to fullback. He understands it now primarily going to be a blocker. When he runs the football it’s a question of get your head down, make the three or four yards.
So he’s very adaptable. And he doesn’t make mistakes. He’s smart. He catches a ball well. He reminds me very much of a kid by the name of Joel Coles. I don’t know if any of you remember Joel. Or Mike Archie. I know you remember Mike Archie. He would be very much like those two kids, complete players. They’re tough. They can block. They catch the football. They understand the blocking scheme of the play they’re running. So he does all those things well. He’s a tough kid to keep out of there.
Q. When you have consecutive road games, is there much of an adjustment, or is that a factor in preparation when you have the second leg of a back-to-back road games?
COACH PATERNO: I think it all ties in with the whole schedule sometimes. I think you’ve got to be careful when you go on the road, and again when you play on the road.
Now, the road trips we’ve had have not been tough ones in the sense of the transportation part of it. The trip to Illinois was now or maybe in the plane, we came home in 45, 50 minutes Saturday. We went home. I’m home in my house at 9:30. And the kids, they have a chance to come home, and unwind and do a couple of things.
So it’s definite. But if you’ve got to take a long trip and you come home late, two, 3:00, or you play a night game, that makes it tougher. Makes it tougher.
But even having said that, you’ve got to be careful. The one thing I’m worried about always, particularly we’re at this stage where we haven’t had an off week, is that you’re going to — and you make sure you’re not overlooking anything how we’re concerned about the kicking game, we’re going to spend more time with the kicking game and yet we don’t want to take something away — we’ll end up with a tired football team. That’s the biggest problem, the biggest concern I have.
Get them prepared but don’t overwork them. And two games back to back have a bearing on that. On the road has a bearing on that.
Q. You’ve got to play in a lot of different weather conditions so far this season. Forecast for Saturday is supposed to be pretty windy out there. How does preparing for the game in the wind differ from, say, comparing to, or preparing for wet conditions or something like that?
COACH PATERNO: Well, again, obviously we’ve got to make an assessment before the game of the team you’re playing and what they can do, what you want to do. Saturday, a lot of the decisions we made were determined by the fact that we won the toss.
We won the toss and we deferred. I know we would have the wind at our backs in the fourth quarter. And it becomes a field position game until you’ve established if you can that you may be a little bit superior in a couple of areas.
So it’s hard for me to tell you exactly how we will react to it. It will depend on a lot of things. I got some criticism for not going for it on the fourth down, but to me that was a no-brainer.
I mean, they had wind and I didn’t want to take a chance of letting them have the ball on the 30, plus the fact their center, first string center had gone out of the game early, No. 50. I hate the shotgun inside the five-yard line. So I bet that we would hold them, they’d make a mistake or we’d make them kick it to us.
I mean, those things, you know, you try to think those things out before you get in the situations. There’s no way to know the center is going to get hurt and play a guard at center.
But those things come into — you’re walking up and down the sideline. I’m not looking at the girls in the stands. I’m freezing to death. (Laughter) And I’m trying to figure out what we’ve got to do if this happens or what are we going to do if that happens. And fortunately I’ve done enough walking up and down those sidelines, once in a while I make the right decision.
So that’s the long answer. So the wind is going to have a factor. But I don’t know exactly what it’s going to be until the game starts to unwind, including the toss and the wind might be a cross-wind.
The game Saturday, the wind wasn’t quite that bad because it came at an angle. Didn’t come right down the field, came at an angle. And Boone was great, except for the kick-off, kicked that ball this way and going another way and another way.
Q. Can you attribute some of the improvement of some of your younger defensive players to the leadership of the older guys you were talking about earlier, or is it just that they’ve played seven, eight games at this point?
COACH PATERNO: Who are you talking about?
Q. Sukay or Devon Still?
COACH PATERNO: Still’s not really a young kid. He’s been around a couple of years. Sukay has been around, but he’s been hurt so much. I think Sukay’s doing well.
I wish I could get him to catch those interceptions, a couple more. I think they’ve done well, and I think Astorino has been a big help in that secondary. And I think Wallace being able to come around like he has and assume some aggressive leadership as he plays the game has been a big help and up front.
Hull doesn’t get much credit because he’s flanked by Bowman, flanked by Lee at times, and they’re probably a little better athlete than Hull, but Hull is a solid kid.
We talked about Odrick. He helps out a lot. And Ogbu. And I think the point you’re making, I would address it in the sense I think that’s when you start to get a good football team, when you get some older kids helping younger kids, they get a little more confident and somebody is patting them on the rear end when they make a play and they’re getting respect from their teammates out on the field like they’re important. I think it all comes together.
Q. Your last trip to Northwestern, you had the big drive at the end with Smolko on fourth down and the touchdown to Derrick Williams. That was early in that season. How much of a turning point do you think winning the game the way you did late helped turn around that season and maybe, even larger perspective, the 2005 season?
COACH PATERNO: I don’t even know what you’re talking about.
Q. You had fourth down and Michael Robinson hit Smolko.
COACH PATERNO: Was that at Northwestern?
Q. Yes, then you had the late touchdown.
COACH PATERNO: I’m glad Smolko caught it. I probably didn’t know he was in the game.
Q. It was early in the season.
COACH PATERNO: Geez, you guys, when I write my book I’ll put all that stuff in it. I don’t know. That’s 100 years ago to me. I don’t go to bed thinking about what we did 20 years ago. I go to bed thinking what we’ve got to do this Saturday. All right. Hope it doesn’t come down to the fourth. But it might. It might come down we’re just trying to hang on for our lives.
Indiana had that game all wrapped up, they thought, at halftime. I think it was 28-3. Am I right? 28-3. They came out; and Northwestern, I’m a little prejudice, but Northwestern’s got a bunch of kids I really like, and I really like Fitzgerald. I think he’s a heck of a coach. I don’t know a lot of his staff, but their kids play college football the way you like to see it played. They play every down. And they’re tough and smart and they adjust well, and we’re going to have a tough football game on our hands.