Penn State tailback Stephfon Green knows Temple safety Jaiquawn Jarrett from high school, the two New Yorkers having played together on a couple of prep All-Star teams. Green and Jarrett have been exchanging text messages this week as their teams look ahead to Saturday's meeting in Beaver Stadium. But there's been none of the trash talking or good-natured chop-busting you might expect. To the contrary, they are keeping things positive.
It's basically encouraging, Green said. It's both of our dreams to make it to the NFL, so we basically just give each other text messages of encouragement. There's no trash talking.
The Owls could no doubt use a little positivity after opening their most promising season in a long time with a 27-24 loss to Villanova. And the Nittany Lions could use some, too, their 2-0 record and No. 5 national ranking notwithstanding.
Penn State goes into Saturday's game averaging 3.3 yards per carry. The Lions are looking to sort out some issues on the offensive line and are in a hurry to do so with the Big Ten season less than two weeks away.
Could Temple's arrival in University Park be just what the doctor ordered? Well, maybe. A year ago, Green ran for 132 yards on just nine carries in Penn State's 45-3 victory over the Owls. And while Temple surrendered only 64 rushing yards (1.8 per carry) in its 2009 season opener, Villanova plays in the Football Championship Subdivision and wasn't supposed to be on par with a team that has been billed as one of the Mid-American Conference's up-and-comers.
But as they try to get the ground game unstuck, the Lions are looking inward, not outward, for inspiration. While the coaches sort out personnel matters along the offensive line, focusing their attention on the guard positions, the tailbacks have been quick to seize on their own mistakes.
I'm not personally going to blame it on the offensive line, because it's not all their fault. They've been busting their behinds doing what they have to do, Green said. If I don't make two or three wrong reads and if I break a couple of tackles, I'm out the gate for a couple of scores [in the first two games]. I'm eager to get a breakout season going, but it hasn't happened in the past two games, and I can't hang my head on anybody. We are young on the offensive line. We need to have cohesion, and right now we don't have that because we lost three guys who are now in the NFL. We're trying to get a good feel for who we're going to have in there, so they can jell together.
Penn State's first two opponents ganged up on the running game, forcing the offense to pass -- which it did, often with ease. The Lions' initial success seemingly indicates that they are capable of moving the ball primarily through the air this season if necessary. Asked Tuesday if he was comfortable throwing more than running, Joe Paterno didn't rule out the possibility. If we're effective, he said, I'm OK.
Green, who has gained 36 yards on 15 carries this season, is likewise open to doing things differently if the running game doesn't click the way it has in the past.
It does get frustrating, he said, don't get me wrong. But at the same time, your team is winning and you're a team player. It's not all about you. It's about the team.