PSU Offense Goes Green

Backup tailback handles the bulk of the second-half workload as the Nittany Lions dispatch Kent State at Beaver Stadium Saturday.

Stephfon Green was as good in the interview room as he was on the field Saturday, telling reporters that he really wants to play tailback for Penn State, that he's frustrated with sitting and frustrated with questions about his durability (questions most often asked by Joe Paterno himself).

At the same time he said he has no hard feelings for the starter, Evan Royster, and is fully aware of how things work in Paternoville -- how there is a lot of turn-waiting, etc.

“It's a business,” Green said at one point.

“There's no 'I' in team,” he said at another, suggesting he has been completely reprogrammed since he arrived three years ago from the Bronx.

He sat in a corner of the room for a long time, speaking passionately and directly but wise enough not to say anything that would land him in Paterno's doghouse. (See Larry Johnson, circa 2000).

“I'm a team player,” Green said. “I'm going to put my team first. I'm not worried about the minutes I get.”

He just wants to make the most of the time he does get, he told the dwindling media mob.

“Couple more questions, guys,” one of the sports-information types finally announced, “and we're gonna let Evan go.”

Then the man caught himself.

Stephfon,” he said.

It was easy to confuse starter and reliever in the oddly unsatisfying 24-0 victory over Kent State, a game that saw Green (aided and abetted by freshman Silas Redd) play most of the second half, while Royster chilled on the sideline. Green, who had carried 11 times in the season's first two games, had 11 more against the Golden Flashes. His 59 yards were his most since he ran for 120 against Illinois last Oct. 3, 10 games ago, and the fourth-highest output of his career.

Fifty-two of his yards came on a 17-play, 80-yard field goal drive in the third quarter. (That march also included the last of Royster's 11 carries on the day. He finished with 38 yards, and became the sixth Nittany Lion to surpass the 3,000-yard mark for his career. Still looming ahead is Curt Warner's all-time rushing mark of 3,398.)

It was, quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno said, an attitude drive. The point in the game at which the Lions decided to button it up and pound the rock. And not a moment too soon, either. PSU had scored touchdowns on its first two possessions of the day, but on the next seven went punt, punt, punt, interception, half, fumble, interception.

“That offensive line wasn't very good the first half, running the football,” Joe Paterno said. “The second half we kind of jumped all over them and told them hey, they've got to start knocking somebody off the ball.”

Added Jay Paterno, “It was more just to try and set a demeanor and say hey guys, we're gonna run the football and let's see if we can do it.”

They did it, and they did it, mostly, with Green.

“I'm just glad they realized they could count on me in that situation,” he told reporters. “Whatever the coach needs me to do, I'm gonna do. This Stephfon Green sitting in front of you is 100 percent. He can carry the load if he has to.”

Green, whose biggest run was an 18-yarder, said he was just trying to read his blocks, get upfield, break tackles.

“I wanted to show my coaches and my teammates I'm durable and can handle the load,” he said.

And rest assured, Joe Paterno did once again raise questions about the durability of the 5-10, 197-pound Green afterward.

“Knock on wood, I hope that's behind him,” the head coach said, “so that we can count on him going in there and if something happens to Royster, he can carry the ball 12, 15 times. It's something we weren't sure he could do, and we're still not sure, until we can get him in there and get him banged around a little bit, and (see if) he can handle the bumps and bruises.”

Someone later asked Green if it drives him nuts to hear that.

“For a head coach, of course it drives me nuts,” he said, “because it's like he doesn't trust me.”

He called it “a little obstacle” he is going to have to overcome, “to prove that he can trust me and I'm going to be the guy.”

The elder Paterno downplayed Royster's third-quarter removal (after just three second-half carries), saying that it was “time to get some of these other kids experience.” Guys like not only Green but Redd, who ran six times for 24 yards, including a 17-yarder late in the game.

And maybe that's all it is. It is a long season, one that takes its toll on the best of backs. Better to have the backups ready, in case of injury.

But it's also true that Royster is off to a slow start this year. And he seemed none too happy on the sideline during the second half. He stood with his arms folded across his chest, his interactions with his teammates few. In time he pushed his helmet back on his head, then removed it. He was not made available for interviews following the game.

Green, for his part, was not about to address the situation -- if in fact it can even be called that.

“Whatever happened between Royster and the coaching staff is between Royster and the coaching staff, not myself,” he said. “Evan is fine. He's gonna keep his head and he's gonna work hard. Before long, you guys won't be asking any more questions about Evan.”

That's a wait-and-see proposition, as is the consistency of the offense -- not a surprise, given the fact that freshman Rob Bolden is the starting quarterback.

Bolden did some good things while going 17-for-27 for 217 yards through the air. He hit Derek Moye for a gain of 55 in the first quarter, setting up a three-yard TD run by Royster. He hit diminutive Devon Smith for a 48-yard touchdown in the third quarter. He would have had a 19-yard scoring pass to Justin Brown earlier in that period, were it not for a holding penalty on guard DeOn'tae Pannell.

Joe Paterno didn't like the fact that Bolden ran as often as he did -- four times, for 33 yards -- something that didn't seem to concern anyone else. Jay Paterno said the youngster was merely displaying the same toughness he had shown at Alabama.

“He's a competitor, so I don't worry about him getting hit,” Jay Paterno said. “He finally wore rib protectors today, after last week. He didn't want to wear them. He came out to practice Monday and had them (on), and I said, 'You figured it out, didn't you?' ”

Bolden seems to be figuring out a great many things as he goes. But he clearly has the right demeanor, as he showed after each of the two picks he threw Saturday -- the first of which Jay Paterno blamed on himself, the second on the young QB.

Either way, Jay said, Bolden shook them off immediately.

“He does a good job of responding when something bad happens,” Jay said. “If he makes a mistake, he's got an uncanny knack of moving on to the next play.”

Besides involving Moye (4-87 receiving) and Smith (3-61), Bolden also managed to get the ball to Graham Zug, who had his first two catches of the year. And soon enough Curtis Drake will be back in the mix. Drake, who broke his left tibia during preseason drills, has begun walking according to Smith, his close friend.

“Hopefully he'll be back in two or three weeks,” Smith said. “That's what he told me.”

So maybe they can piece this thing together yet. Maybe they can find an identity.

And maybe they can identify a tailback as well. There seemed to be some question about that as Saturday wound down.

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