It is clear that Penn State has come a long way offensively from a year ago.
But can the Nittany Lions take the next step and do big things against a defense ranked among the nation’s top 10? That is the question that will be answered on Saturday night as Penn State hosts Ohio State at Beaver Stadium (7:45 p.m., ESPN).
PSU is led by dual threat quarterback Michael Robinson, tailback Tony Hunt and a receiver corps of freshmen including Derrick Williams, Deon Butler, Jordan Norwood and Justin King.
Today, we share comments from members of the OSU defense on the task they face against Penn State.
Nate Salley, safety
* On Robinson’s emergence -- “Robinson seems like he is comfortable at quarterback, just concentrating on being the quarterback. He looks like he has gotten a lot better. They have some receivers out there flying around. They look like they are having a lot more fun.”
* On how Robinson compares to past opponents --“They are all athletic guys. (Vince) Young was very athletic and elusive. (Drew) Tate was the same way, just a little smaller. There are a lot of quarterbacks like this who are mobile guys who can throw the ball. We just have to come out, fly around and play our defense.”
* On Williams’ sudden impact -- “He opened it up for them. They put him in the backfield. He plays quarterback at times. He’s a wideout. He makes big plays and you need that if you want to win big games. They’re undefeated right now.”
* On Joe Paterno playing such a talented freshmen -- “He has a good one. You have to use the players you have. Last year, we had Teddy (Ginn) and he did some big things for us. If you have a player like that, you can’t just leave them on the sidelines. You have to get your best players out there.”
* On why PSU is better -- “They have a lot more athletes out there on the field. The players are making plays. I watched the Minnesota game on TV. I was a little bit surprised. I thought Minnesota would give them a better game than that. It just shows how they come out and play. They were very physical. They just wanted the game more than Minnesota did. They are playing good ball now and we will have to come out ready to play.”
* On playing at Penn State at night -- “It doesn’t get too much better than that. We believe if we do well against those guys we can do well against anyone in the nation.”
Anthony Schlegel, MLB
* On Robinson -- “I think he looks more comfortable. I think he has a great arm. He throws the deep out route. They run a lot more quarterback draws with him because he can scramble. He’s a good runner. He’s really solid. The team has meshed together really well.
“His arm has always been there. I just think he is really comfortable and he has some threats on the outside he can use. It also helps you when you’re the man. He probably has that confidence now that they’re 5-0 and they’re winning. He had a great game against Minnesota. He’s on a real high right now.”
* On how PSU differs from past years -- “They’re spreading it around a lot more. They are running a lot of the Utah stuff with two in the backfield. That way you have to be sound with all of your gaps and responsibilities. They run the quarterback keep off of that. We have prepared for teams like that. We just have to prepare and keep getting better.”
* On combating a running quarterback -- “It all boils down to being fundamentally sound and playing the defense we have called. That is what will eliminate those plays. Vince Young had a couple where we were probably running to the inside zone more than we should have. But you live and learn from it. That’s what we’re carrying into this weekend. We need to affect him. Not a lot of people have affected him.”
* On having a reputation as a strong defense -- “We’re just out here trying to play hard and whatever people think that’s great. We just need to keep doing it week in and week out. It’s all about the D-line and Coach Heacock and Coach Fickell.”
* On why this game is being hyped -- “They’re in the top 20 and they’re undefeated. We’re going on the road and it’s a big game and it’s at night. Any time you have ranked teams playing each other, it’s a good thing. We’re just excited to have this test on the road.”
Ashton Youboty, CB
* On how OSU contained Robinson last year -- “He was just under too much pressure. They had a young O-line. They just needed to get some experience. We put a lot of pressure on him. He didn’t have as many talented receivers as he does this year.”
* On the difference for PSU this year -- “They have the freshmen to open it up. But the offensive line is doing a good job of giving him more time to deliver. He’s probably the same as he’s been at quarterback. He just has more time to deliver.”
* On going against speedy receivers -- “If you’re playing man-to-man, you can’t let them off the line. You slow them down before they can get started. I’m not concerned about their receivers outrunning me. We have some good athletes. If you’re playing zone coverage, you just worry about where you need to be and have faith in your teammates that they are where they need to be.
“They have to be one of the top three receiving corps we will play.”
* On proving OSU has a great defense -- “We still have one loss. We have more to prove. Even though we played a good game (against Iowa), we still have to keep stopping teams. We’ll take the credit, but we know we can still improve.”
Bobby Carpenter, OLB
* On the challenge of playing the Lions -- “Playing Penn State is definitely a good challenge. We have watched a lot of tape of them, and I am definitely impressed. I’m more impressed with every game I watch.”
* On the importance of this game -- “We have seven games left and this will be one of the most important games for the rest of this season. It is a defining point for us. It’s a defining point for Penn State. You really couldn’t ask for more out of this game. It means a lot to these two teams. It’s two storied national powers.”
A.J. Hawk, OLB
* On how PSU has improved -- “They’re playing really well this year. They have a lot of talent. They’re just playing confident and confidence is a huge thing in football. Their defense has always been great. When they play confident as they are, it’s hard to stop them. They throw a lot of things at you.
“You see how well their O-line plays. They are big, physical guys and they can move around. They make some good holes for those guys. They have backs who can run. When you add the speed guys they have this year, that makes it hard to stop. I think their offense is coming together.”
* On going against Linebacker U. -- “People try and put us into linebacker battles with other teams. But we’re just trying to be the best defense in the country. We want to go in and make statements and try to affect the quarterback, be a physical defense and be a defense that people want to watch. That’s our goal each week. We don’t worry about certain positions. We’re worried about all 11 guys on the defense.”
* On what the Buckeyes will be walking into -- “Everyone is going to be ready. It’s a great stadium. It’s a big stadium and it will be a night game, so that adds some more electricity. We have to go in there and be ready or it’s not going to come out our way.”
* On Robinson’s ability as a runner -- “He’s a physical runner. He’s a big guy and he’s tough to bring down. That’s his biggest asset. He’s not afraid to tuck the ball and run. He also has a lot of speed. That’s not something that is talked about a lot. He’s a great athlete.
“I think he finally got a chance to be the guy. He rotated with Zack Mills the last few years and he never got comfortable with that. They let him know he’s the guy. He’s playing with a lot of confidence.”