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College

Penn State toying with idea of spread offense

| Sunday, Aug. 21, 2005

At first blush, excitement over Penn State's flirtation with a spread offense seems to be a stretch -- pun intended.

A team with a quarterback who threw just 39 passes last season, completing a mere 14, is going to revitalize the offense by airing it out to a group of wide receivers that will depend heavily on untested freshmen?

The spread attack is anticipated to open up the running game, too, which has been none-too-spectacular more often than not during a run of four losing seasons in the past five.

This new offensive style would put Penn State in step with college football of the current vintage, where last season eight of the top 11 schools were relying on an offense that could be characterized as a spread, with four or five receivers out wide and one or even zero running backs.

The nagging question is, does Penn State have the personnel to make this transition• Last year, when the receiving corps tended to the slow and ham-handed, the answer was an unqualified "No."

This year, buoyed by the addition of the likes of highly regarded recruits Derrick Williams, Justin King and Lydell Sargeant, less well-known freshman Jordan Norwood, and the shift to offense of speedy Deon Butler, the answer could be "Yes."

"It's all relative," Joe Paterno said. "You can spread people out all over the place, but if the other guy is containing you one-on-one, you don't do yourself much good. You have to have a guy that, when you spread them out, is superior to the guy that is going to try to handle him."

Because of Williams and King, the latter Paterno has said will play more on offense than defense, as well as the other additions, the coach is thinking positively.

"I think you will see more of a spread-type offense with us this year until we feel like we can't get it done with that," he said. "Right now, we are hopeful that we will be able to get it done."

Quarterback Michael Robinson has higher expectations than barely getting it done.

"I really enjoy the spread offense," the fifth-year senior said. "It puts defenses in a bind and opens things up a little bit as far as defenses stacking the box and trying to stop me from doing quarterback runs and things like that. We finally have enough receivers that can be on the field at the same time to be able to make plays."

That receiving corps was so short last season, Robinson had to double as backup and occasional starting quarterback, as well as wide receiver.

The view from the defensive side of Penn State practices, put forth by senior cornerback Alan Zemaitis, is encouraging.

"I like to see stuff like that," he said. "Sometimes you go against your squad so much it gets repetitious. Just to see a little change-up, a little wrinkle in the outfit, made me get excited a little bit for the season coming up-- to see we've got something a little different for teams to watch out for."

Backup quarterback Anthony Morelli, the sophomore from Penn Hills, also is enthused about the spread look.

"We've got more speed with these young guys, Justin and Derrick and Deon and Lydell, all of those guys are looking really good," he said. "We're trying to spread the ball out and get it in their hands."

It was suggested Penn State might be poised to rise from Big Ten offensive also-ran to a spot near the top.

"That's what I would like to say. That's what I hope," Morelli said. "We'll have to wait and see. I don't want to say anything right now. We'll be able to tell after the first couple of games."

If the spread brings the big play back to the Penn State offense -- there was not a single pass play that gained more than 49 yards last season and just one run longer than 47 yards -- the change will be a success.

"Offensively, we have to be better," Paterno said. "There are not two ways about it. We have to make more big plays."

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