Lions Turn Focus Inward

Nate Stupar

Unsure what they'll get following the coaching shakeup at Minnesota, Penn State players are more concerned with simply improving coming off of two straight losses.

The good news for Penn State is that it's playing a team on Saturday who has not won since Sept. 2.

The bad news is that it has no idea what to expect from Minnesota.

Minnesota fired head coach Tim Brewster last Sunday after the Golden Gophers lost to Purdue, 28-17, falling to 1-6 in Brewster's fourth season at the helm. Offensive coordinator Jeff Horton was promoted to interim head coach.

The mid-season termination has created uncertainty among Penn States coaches and players about how the Golden Gophers will respond to their coach's dismissal.

“I asked my staff that question, and nobody really knows how they are going to react,” head coach Joe Paterno said. “I can look at their personnel, but I can't tell you what the relationship will be with the team and the new head coach.”

Junior linebacker Nate Stupar agreed with Paterno.

“With the coaching change, we don't really know what to expect coming into Saturday,” Stupar said. “We can go on what they have run this season with their schemes, but we're going to go into this week really preparing for anything.”

Despite the Nittany Lions' plethora of problems, Stupar is happy the team has stability at the head coach position.

“I couldn't imagine having to go through a coaching change midway through the season,” Stupar said. “They're going through the same thing that we are going through but it's probably more difficult.”

As for Penn State, its bye week could not have come at a better time.

Following an embarrassing 33-13 loss to Illinois on Homecoming Day, the Nittany Lions were granted a much-needed respite, as players exited Happy Valley in search of a break from football.

“Coach (Paterno) gave us last Friday, Saturday and Sunday off, so the team had an opportunity to go home and see its family and friends,” Stupar said. “It gave us time off to regroup and refocus. We're coming in fresh this week and we're focused on an emotional game and just playing with heart. We're excited to see what happens Saturday.”

In charge of seeing that the team rights its ship are team captains Brett Brackett and Ollie Ogbu.

Ogbu, a defensive tackle, did not show up for a scheduled teleconference this week.

Meanwhile, Brackett, a senior wide receiver, has been reminding his teammates how lucky they are to play football and represent Penn State's tradition-rich program. To do so, Brackett has been in constant conversation with Ogbu about how the pair can best convey its message.

“Ollie and I have talked a lot the past week,” Brackett said. “We're trying to find a way to get the message out to everybody that you have to approach every opportunity like it's your last. We're all moving forward and focusing on the next six games.”

Many people believe the captains' messages will be lost on the team if the entire group does not start playing with intensity and passion -- two traits the coaching staff felt were missing in the loss to Illinois.

“Anytime you have to worry about enthusiasm and playing college football, it's something you have to fix,” Brackett said. “It's something we need to figure out within ourselves because if we get a win, that will obviously change things around for us.”

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