Penn State running back Evan Royster fends off Youngstown State’s Brandian Ross on Sept. 4. Despite a rocky start to his fifth and final season, Royster is still on track to becoming the Nittany Lions’ all-time leading rusher.AP photo
Even in hindsight, the choice would still be an easy one for Evan Royster. But when he decided to return to Penn State for his fifth and final season, this wasn’t how he thought it would begin.
Sure, top-ranked Alabama was on the schedule and a reshuffled offensive line was going to make things tough in the early going. Even still, just 20 carries for 72 yards seemed unlikely.
Penn State has not made its senior tailback available to reporters since after the Youngstown State game, in which he was given just 11 carries against the FCS Penguins. A scheduled teleconference was canceled due to miscommunication, according to Royster.
By the accounts from his teammates and coaches, however, the easy-going Royster has handled the rocky start well.
“Well, I think the effort’s fine,” coach Joe Paterno said. “I don’t know whether we’ve really established the kind of running game that Royster would do well in. Royster is a kind of a ‘pick ’em and spot ’em – give me a crack and I’ll go’ guy. He’s not a guy that’s gonna run over you.
“He doesn’t have great speed, (he) has good speed. But he’s got good instincts. He obviously catches the ball well when we use him as a receiver. … But I think he’s doing all right.”
Despite the meager start on the stat sheet, the Virginia native is still well on track to become Penn State’s all-time leading rusher. Sitting at 2,990 career rushing yards, Royster needs just 409 yards to take the crown from Curt Warner.
This week’s home matchup against Kent State would look like a good way to get Royster – and the running game as a whole – back on track.
As it turns out, however, the Golden Flashes lead the nation in rush defense, allowing just 22 yards over the first two games.
That number is a bit misleading – with sacks counting against a team’s rushing total in the college game, the Flashes decimated FCS Murray State in their opener, picking up five sacks for minus-44 yards. Murray State’s final net rushing total was minus-65 yards.
Last week against a far better opponent in Boston College, Kent State held the Eagles to 89 yards rushing in a 26-13 loss.
The Lions, meanwhile, quickly fell behind last week against Alabama and had little success with traditional run plays, instead getting its biggest gain on a reverse to receiver Shawney Kersey.
Against Youngstown State, the Lions were more concerned about breaking in freshman quarterback Rob Bolden than feeding Royster.
“I think it’s a whole mix (of things) and we’ve not been able to sustain any type of (momentum),” Paterno said. “The first game, we did what we had to do. We didn’t want to do too much against Alabama and recovered from the shock of being down so far.
“We started to play a decent football game and I think Royster did a little better the second half than he did the first half. But I think we’re OK.”
“It looks worse,” receiver Derek Moye said of the run game, “than it really is.”
One thing Penn State will try this weekend is getting more snaps for Johnnie Troutman at left guard. DeOn’tae Pannell started the first two games at that spot, but Troutman saw his share of plays with the first-team offense in both games.
Troutman is considered to be one of the Lions’ most talented linemen – certainly the strongest on the offensive side – but coaches have been upset with the junior’s discipline, as he has showed up for preseason camp too heavy the last few seasons and has needed to work his way back into the team’s good graces.
He may have done just that with his play against Alabama.
“They’re fighting it out, but right now Troutman is a little bit ahead,” Paterno said.
Kent State at Penn State
Beaver Stadium, State College
TV : ESPN2
On The Web: For complete coverage of Penn State football, read Joe Soprano’s and Derek Levarse’s blogs at www.timesleader.com.