|Penn State 32, Kent State 10|
|September 20, 2003|
|Beaver Stadium - University Park, PA|
|Kickoff Time: 1:00 p.m. EDT|
|STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -
For Penn State's stuttering offense, the plan was to use overmatched Kent
State to get some issues settled, to walk away with a victory and look darn
good doing it. After all, Big Ten Conference play begins next week.
The Nittany Lions (2-2) nailed down the win, all right, a 32-10 decision over the Golden Flashes (2-2) yesterday before more empty seats at Beaver Stadium than in any game in recent memory. Even though 102,078 tickets were sold, a significant number of Penn State fans decided to leave their RVs parked in their driveways.
And although he wouldn't confirm it, coach Joe Paterno apparently settled the tailback issue. Freshman Austin Scott, the Pennsylvania scholastic record-setter from Parkland High School near Allentown, and the people's choice, made his first start and was featured nicely.
Scott didn't waste the opportunity. He ran for 100 yards on 21 carries and scored three touchdowns on runs of 1, 4 and 11 yards. He exhibited all a coach wants in a running back during runs of 19 and 15 yards. Strength, speed and elusiveness.
"Oh man, he's special," said quarterback Michael Robinson, who played nearly half the game and led the eventual winning drive late in the second quarter, when a 10-yard TD run by fullback Sean McHugh gave Penn State a 17-10 lead after Kent State jumped out to a 10-0 advantage.
Paterno, who practically breaks out in a rash when asked about a true freshman, said of Scott's performance, "He did a decent job." That's high praise for a freshman from the legendary coach.
In an effort to juice up the passing game, Paterno auditioned another receiver, redshirt freshman Maurice Humphrey. The converted cornerback had three catches for 37 yards. Humble numbers. But he appeared very dangerous after catching the ball. Paterno also added another young player to the offensive line, starting highly touted redshirt sophomore Charles Rush at left guard. Rush helped Penn State gain 282 yards on the ground.
But other issues weren't settled. Dropped passes continued at an uncanny rate. And Penn State lost three fumbles, one by punt returner Calvin Lowry in the first quarter that Elijah Brooks recovered in the endzone to give Kent State a 7-0 lead.
Struggling Tony Johnson and Gerald Smith each had two of the team's six drops. Smith couldn't handle a perfect throw from quarterback Zack Mills in the end zone.
"I don't know why it's happening," said Johnson, a senior who has had problems hanging on to the ball all season. "I don't drop balls in practice. Maybe I should drop them in practice and save the catches for the game."
For the fourth consecutive game, the passing attack was substandard, a problem that clearly seems to have Paterno befuddled. Mills was 10 for 20 for 99 yards. Robinson was 2 for 9 for 29 yards. Neither threw a TD pass. So far, Penn State has one TD pass, none in the last three games. The Nittany Lions' quarterbacks have completed only 43 percent of their throws.
"I'm still worried about catching the ball," Paterno said. "You can't get rhythm into a drive. Until we can do that, we're not going to be very good."
"We would have liked to have made a statement in this game, and I can't say we did," Mills said. Asked if Penn State's offense is ready for the Big Ten, Mills added, "At times we look like we are, but at times we look like we aren't because we get sloppy."
Added Robinson: "We still have things to work on. We should have beaten this team by 50 to whatever they had."
Penn State's defense, which has allowed only one TD since the first quarter of the second game against Boston College, caught a break when Joshua Cribbs, Kent State's dynamic double-threat quarterback, left the game with a sprained left ankle during the first possession. His backup, Antwan Smith, played admirably before leaving in the second quarter with a shoulder injury. The third quarterback, Darryl Polk, was gobbled up by a Penn State defense that held the Golden Flashes to 184 total yards.
"Everyone talks about how young our defense is, but each week we keep getting better and better," linebacker Deryck Toles said. "We took this whole week knowing we had to get better because we wanted to dominate the game."
Notes: Paterno does not permit true freshmen to speak to the media, but here's what Austin Scott said through a Penn State spokesperson: "It takes a while to feel comfortable, but I would say around the end of the second quarter I started feeling better and got a good rhythm. Being out there for more plays and getting more runs helped a lot."....Scott had 28 carries in the first three games......The last true freshman to gain 100 yards in a regular-season game for Penn State was Eric McCoo, who had 206 against Michigan State in 1998......Kent State's Brooks recovered two fumbles, a rarity for a running back.