Penn State football coach Joe Paterno answers questions at his weekly pregame news conference on Tuesday in State College.AP photo
The coaching staff has done everything possible to get Penn State’s offense to perform better in the Red Zone. Now, it’s up to the Nittany Lions.
“I don’t know what we can do besides do what we have done,” Joe Paterno said Tuesday during his weekly teleconference. “We have made mistakes and it is kind of discouraging. Most of the games we have played, we have not had people give us easy ones. We have had one or two … I think Illinois gave us a couple of easy ones. The rest of them, when we have had to score, we have had to make long drives.”
Truth is, length truly doesn’t matter when it comes to the Lions offense, which has had trouble finishing drives regardless of where it’s started on the field.
Through nine games, the offense is just 16-of-36 (44 percent) in scoring touchdowns inside the opposition’s 20-yard line. Overall, Penn State is 27-of-36 (75 percent) in the Red Zone.
“I don’t know whether it is inexperience or whether it is a question of people getting too excited about getting down in there and wanting to get it in,” Paterno said. “I am not quite sure, but we spend an awful lot of time on our practice field simulating the situations in the Red Zone.
“We have done things that really should have been successful, and for one reason or other we have fouled it up. … I don’t know what else you can do.”
Penn State (6-3 overall, 4-2 Big Ten) has won four of its last five heading into Saturday’s clash with 17th-ranked Wisconsin (8-1, 5-1) at lively Camp Randall Stadium. A win over the Badgers would all but guarantee Paterno’s squad a New Year’s Day bowl berth, likely in Florida.
Led by first-year head coach and former Badger defensive coordinator Bret Bielema, Wisconsin still has slim hopes for a conference title.
“We’re not even thinking about a bowl game,” senior quarterback John Stocco said Tuesday. “We’re just concentrating on beating Penn State.”
The Lions, who haven’t defeated a ranked team all season, will have their paws filled with a Badgers squad that features a veteran leader in Stocco and an outstanding runner in redshirt freshman P.J. Hill, the Big Ten’s leading rusher.
Hill (1,222 yards) injured his neck in last week’s game against Illinois and his status for Saturday is uncertain.
“Our expectations don’t change,” Stocco said. “If one guy goes down, we have to have another step up.”
Wisconsin also owns one of the nation’s top defenses, a unit that’s held seven opponents to 17 points or less.
“It is a typical Wisconsin team,” Paterno said. “If you are going to beat them, you have to beat them because they are not going to beat themselves.”
ABC wanted to move Saturday’s game from noon (ET) to primetime, but Penn State objected, citing an NCAA rule.
“The rule is that the home team has the right to change the game to night, but they have to do it before the season starts, just as when we played Michigan at night,” Paterno said. “Michigan, I don’t think, was crazy about it.
“I didn’t want to play Wisconsin at night. In the first place, because of the weather. Plus, we have to come home and play the next week.”
Night games also give the home team’s student body plenty of time to get, well, prepared for the action.
“They asked me and I said, ‘Let’s not play.’ Is it going to affect the crowd? No. is it going to affect television? No. So why should we play at night?
Paterno said his veteran tailback, who is being redshirted this season, has made great strides while working behind the scenes.
“He is doing great. He is on the scout team and is trying to make that defense better. He has really been great.”
Said linebacker Dan Connor: “Austin’s going to be a prime-time back next year.”
Penn State vs. No. 17 Wisconsin
Camp Randall Stadium
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