Penn State seeks leaders after loss to Alabama
Joe Paterno's greatest fear is coming true.
While his 45th Penn State team continues to seek solid senior leadership, its youth has emerged like a scratch on a new car.
The result was a 24-3 loss to No. 1 Alabama that upset Paterno immediately after the game Saturday night, but with the passage of time, didn't surprise him at all.
"I think I've been nervous about how young (many of our players) are and where the leadership will come from," he said Tuesday. "We played in the first half in Alabama like I was afraid we would play — very tentative; we weren't aggressive."
In addition to that problem, another surfaced in the Alabama game. Penn State's defense played like no one knew how to tackle.
"Seeing it on film reiterated how bad of a performance it was," free safety Nick Sukay said. "We didn't come out with the fire and passion and aggression that we needed to. We can't come out flat and expect to win."
Paterno said he has heard some seniors trying to get teammates to follow their lead, but he said he still wonders about leadership.
"We have some seniors, but only a couple of them have played much football," Paterno said. "I am a little disappointed, but I have to be careful. We went into a tough situation Saturday. Maybe we have more leadership than I think we have, but we have to work on it."
Right guard Stefen Wisniewski, defensive tackle Ollie Ogbu, running back Evan Royster and right tackle Lou Eliades are the only seniors who have started for at least two seasons, including this year.
"I don't know if we've got anybody who has grabbed (the attention of) a couple of guys," Paterno said. "I think (wide receiver Brett) Brackett is, Wisniewski is starting to come around a little more and I think Ogbu is really trying hard to be a leader."
But Wisniewski wasn't voted as an offensive captain by his teammates. The honor instead went to Brackett, who wasn't in the starting lineup last Saturday.
Royster has started his senior season by averaging only 36 yards per game.
Ogbu has nine tackles and a sack and has gained the respect of his teammates, but he's part of the Penn State defensive front that was shoved around by Alabama.
Senior linebackers Bani Gbadyu and Chris Colasanti were in no position to offer encouragement after Paterno said that unit struggled.
"I thought our linebacking wasn't very good," he said. "We didn't tackle well enough."
And senior wide receiver Graham Zug has no receptions.
"You guys are going to get tired of hearing it," Paterno told reporters on his weekly conference call, "but we are a young football team, and it will take a while to play with a lot more confidence and a lot more verve."
Speaking of how freshman quarterback Rob Bolden stood up to Alabama's speed and pressure, Paterno said, "There are a whole mess of kids like that who have never played in those situations."
The good news is that Penn State is home the next two games against Kent State and Temple of the Mid-American Conference. Maybe the Nittany Lions can find their footing before playing No. 9 Iowa, resurgent Michigan and No. 2 Ohio State.
"It's doable," Paterno said, "but we have a lot of work ahead of us."
How do you think (safety) Nick Sukay (Greensburg Central Catholic graduate) has played through the first two games?
"I thought Sukay played well. He must have had five, six tackles early in the game (he finished with eight). Our problem is tackles after 6-, 7-, 8-yard gains. We're not being aggressive enough around the football. And Sukay saved a couple of really long plays. I think he's done all right. But there, again, we've got to start doing a little better job in pass defense (Penn State has no interceptions this season). We've got to start making a couple of plays where we get the ball back."
When you play a team like Alabama, does that give you an opportunity to evaluate where your program is from a personnel standpoint, what it would take to get to that level, to compete for a national championship?
"Well, to a degree. That's not the only thing that comes into your evaluation. You can get licked, and you can get licked (again). Depends on how (you react). Then, you've got to look at the individual kids — how they played away from home and before that crowd against a team with that much talent. You've got to take all of those things into consideration when you evaluate where you can go."
Why has tackling been in an issue in the first two games?
"I think that's because we have some tentative people who are getting in good position, but they're not quite sure they're in the right position. They're not very aggressive going after some people and tackling. We've tried to emphasize the fact you can't stand around and let the other guy make the move all the time."