Paterno Focuses on One Number: Turnovers
Win would be will be his 100th since joining the Big Ten in 1993
Sept. 23, 2005
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CHICAGO (AP) - The numbers are impressive.
Penn State brings a 3-0 record, a defense that has 12 sacks and an offense that is averaging 35 points, 183.3 yards rushing and 283.7 yards passing per game into Saturday's Big Ten opener at Northwestern. The Nittany Lions' next conference victory will be their 100th since joining the Big Ten in 1993.
Yet, only one statistic was on coach Joe Paterno's mind this week.
"We had three turnovers," he said, referring to last week's 40-3 victory over Central Michigan. "But you guys don't even mention the turnovers. You have three turnovers in a ballgame and you usually lose. The things that are bugging me are the turnovers.
"I think if we start eliminating the turnovers, we will start to get where we feel pretty good about ourselves."
So he's not quite ready to declare his program back among the nation's elite. Penn State's struggles in recent years are well-documented - losing records in four of the previous five seasons, a 26-33 mark during that stretch, and criticism of Paterno.
"I think a lot of teams in the Big Ten don't respect us the way they used to," tight end Isaac Smolko said.
The Nittany Lions were 4-7 last year, 2-6 in conference, and lost their second consecutive game to Northwestern. But Wildcats middle linebacker Tim McGarigle sees signs of a reawakening - especially on offense.
He sees a senior quarterback, Michael Robinson, with 584 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions. And he sees a running back, Tony Hunt, with 262 yards on 36 attempts - 7.3 yards per carry. He sees three freshmen receivers - Deon Butler, Derrick Williams and Justin King - who have injected speed into the passing game.
A year ago, Penn State's longest touchdown pass was 37 yards. In the past two games, the Nittany Lions have five of more than 40 yards, including touchdown receptions of 55 and 47 yards last week.
"They're trying to go downfield a little more," McGarigle said. "They've got some good freshman receivers. But they're going to run the ball first and foremost."
Although Penn State's numbers on offense are impressive, they haven't come against elite defenses. And the Nittany Lions will face a Northwestern team that allowed a school-record 773 yards in last week's 52-21 loss to Arizona State.
"After watching the film, it's good that we realize the things we gave up were easily correctible," McGarigle said. "Getting beat that bad, we're going to have to work that much harder each week, improve gap responsibilities."
A Northwestern offense averaging 489.3 yards could pose matchup problems for Penn State. Senior quarterback Brett Basanez has completed 72 of 106 passes for 797 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions, and wide receiver Shaun Herbert has 21 receptions for 212 yards. The return of senior receiver Mark Philmore, who missed last week's game for personal reasons, bolsters the passing game.
"(Basanez) throws well under pressure, and he's done well at getting out of pressure," Penn State safety Chris Harrell said.