With memories of last weekend’s tough loss at Ohio State still fresh in everybody’s minds, Joe Paterno gave his Nittany Lions Monday off from practice.
“I just told them, ‘Hey, keep your heads up.’ We played a good, solid football game and couldn’t make a couple of plays and they did. … I told them, ‘I think we just have to put that one behind us and get on with it.’”
Penn State played No. 1 Ohio State to a near stalemate on the road before two late interceptions for touchdowns turned a close game into a 28-6 final score. The Lions and Buckeyes were close in almost every statistical category except the one that counted most.
“Again, we killed ourselves,” said Paterno, whose squad committed three turnovers and failed to take advantage of several opportunities, including an interception by linebacker Dan Connor deep in OSU territory early in the second half, with Penn State leading 3-0.
The offense also botched a fourth-and-goal at the Buckeye 1 in the fourth quarter, when guard Rich Ohrnberger jumped off-sides and had to settle for a Kevin Kelly field goal.
That series typified both of the team’s losses this season.
“We have to somehow get over that,” Paterno said Tuesday during his weekly teleconference. “When we do that I think we will be pretty good.”
Aside from the mistakes, the 79-year-old coach liked what he saw in his team, which battled the Buckeyes for almost 58 minutes.
“If you told me we were going to go in there and hold Ted Ginn to two or three catches (2-15 yards). That kid, (quarterback Troy Smith), who was a 70 percent passer, made the one great pass, which was a great play on the scramble.
“I thought, overall, we went down and played well, except we blew a couple of chances where we could have maybe made them do some things a little differently. But we never got further than the 3-0 lead when we had a chance.”
Penn State (2-2) hosts Northwestern (2-2) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Beaver Stadium. The Wildcats lost at Nevada last Friday, 31-21.
Junior Dan Connor continues to be the best player on a rapidly improving defensive unit. The linebacker had eight tackles at Ohio State and leads the unit with 38 stops overall, 21 solo, with 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks.
Connor on Tuesday said the Lions’ goal is to win its last eight regular-season games and earn the best bowl bid possible.
“It was a tough start, but we played two real good experienced teams (in Ohio State and Notre Dame),” he said. “We’ve matured by playing those games. Everyone has experience now. There are pretty much no excuses.”
Paterno did not reveal the results of an MRI taken on Kelly’s back, but the coach said the left-footed placekicker will have to be watched closely.
“He has to be careful how much he does right now,” the coach said. “He is a tough kid.”
A sophomore, Kelly has converted 8-of-12 field goal attempts this season. He made 2-of-3 last week against Ohio State, but the miss (42 yards) came early in the second half with the Lions ahead 3-0. Kelly also missed from 23 yards earlier in the game, but got a reprieve when the Buckeyes were flagged for roughing.
Red-hot punter Jeremy Kapinos was named co-Big Ten’s Special Teams Player of the Week for his efforts at Ohio State. The Penn State senior posted a 50.5-yard average on his six punts and stuck the Buckeyes inside their own 20-yard-line on three occasions.
Kapinos, who owns a 41.7 career average, shares this week’s recognition with Wisconsin punter Ken DeBauche, and joins junior linebacker Dan Connor (Sept. 4) as Penn State’s conference player of the week honorees this season.
“Kapinos is one of the better punters we have had around here,” Paterno said.
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