Joe Paterno was in rare form at his Tuesday press conference, just waiting for a question about today’s opponent, Florida International.
When it finally came, he pounced.
“I am as nervous as I’ve probably have even been for a first game,” said Paterno, 80, who is entering his 42nd season as head coach of the Nittany Lions (No. 17 AP/No. 18 Coaches). “I’ve tried to do all of the research that we could possibly do on what the new coach (Mario Cristobal) might want to do with his football team. He’s got some Rutgers background, so we looked at some Rutgers tape, particularly on defense.
“We’ve heard some things about what they might do with the spread (offense) and other things. So we’re trying to get ourselves ready.”
Paterno and his players collectively shrugged their shoulders when it came to discussing the Golden Panthers, who incidentally bring a 0-12 record from a year ago into Beaver Stadium for today’s noon kickoff.
“It’s basically a guessing game,” cornerback Justin King said.
“It’s hard to study them. We’ve pretty much covered everything, every look,” said linebacker Dan Connor.
“Don’t know too much about ‘em,” said quarterback Anthony Morelli. “It’s kinda tough to do anything. We have to be ready for anything and everything they give us.”
And so on and so forth.
It is true that Cristobal’s motives this week are largely unknown. At age 36, the Miami alum and former offensive line coach for Rutgers and the Hurricanes has never been a head coach at any level, leaving little relevant game film to study.
Thus, the playbooks for this week were quite a bit thicker on both sides of the ball than a typical season opener.
Taking it a step further, Cristobal has yet to name a starting quarterback for today’s game, following Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis’ lead in throwing out three possible candidates.
Of course, the only one Penn State has even a second of college film on is sophomore Paul McCall, who threw a whopping 18 passes as the Panthers’ backup in 2006.
The other two choices are redshirt freshman Wayne Younger and true freshman Colt Anderson.
One thing that does seem for certain is that FIU will air the ball out with whichever player(s) step behind center. It could be a good opportunity for the Lions to experiment a bit on defense, where they’ve tried a few different personnel sets in their nickel passage in preseason practice.
“I haven’t got the slightest idea what they’re going to do offensively or what they’re going to do defensively,” Paterno said. “We’re guessing. … Are we going to be ready? I don’t know.
“They’ll come up here just a little bit maybe better prepared than we’re going to be for their program. That’s the way it goes. We’ll see what happens.”
Chances are, if you’re living in Northeastern Pa., today’s season-opener won’t be appearing on your home TV.
The newly launched Big Ten Network is the only station carrying the game, and contentious negotiations between the fledgling network and local cable companies have not gone well.
Neither Comcast nor Service Electric have reached a deal to carry the Big Ten Network, leaving DirecTV as the main provider.
Big Ten Network officials are seeking to have the station offered as part of basic cable packages in states with Big Ten schools. Cable companies such as Comcast and Service Electric want to offer them on a specialized digital sports tier, as to not charge regular cable subscribers a higher rate.
Talks between the entities continue as Penn State’s game against Buffalo on Sept. 15 will also be available only on the Big Ten Network, with the possibility of later games on the schedule going the same route.
Florida International (0-0) at No. 17 Penn State (0-0)
TV: Big Ten Network
For more Penn State coverage. read Derek Levarse’s blog at www.timesleader.com