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Paterno and Penn State primed for stretch run

Scott Haynes, College Football Senior Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The method of coaching on game day has been altered in Happy Valley, but the results are eerily similar. Penn State is atop the Leaders Division in the Big Ten with an impressive 4-0 conference mark. The Nittany Lions are 7-1 on the year and obviously in the driver's seat heading towards the first-ever Big Ten Championship Game.

Should we really have expected any less from Joe Paterno?

He isn't on the sideline anymore, instead coaching from the box, after suffering a hip injury in an August practice. He doesn't get around like he used to, he isn't as hands on and is delegating more and more authority to his staff these days.

Still. with last week's 34-24 win over Northwestern, Paterno tied Grambling legend Eddie Robinson for the most wins in Division I history at 408.

Always magnanimous in victory, Paterno commented after the win on the milestone.

"I went to bed last night and said, 'Jeez, if we win tomorrow I'm gonna be tied with Eddie Robinson.' Eddie Robinson was one of the greatest guys to ever coach. He had some of the greatest athletes. Eddie and I worked together on a couple committees. Eddie Robinson was a lot more than a football coach."

Joe Paterno is in his 62nd season on the Penn State coaching staff.
Paterno is in his 62nd season on the Penn State coaching staff. In addition to his win total, he also has the most bowl victories (24) and the most bowl appearances (37), to go along with two national titles (1982, 1986) and five undefeated seasons (1968, 1969, 1973, 1986, 1994).

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Of course, there are detractors, even within the Penn State community, that think the game has passed Paterno by. However, his simple formula of running the football effectively and playing hard-nosed defense rings true even in 2011.

Star running backs have peppered the Penn State rosters over the years, from legends like Lenny Moore, Lydell Mitchell, Franco Harris, John Cappelletti and Curt Warner to more modern day rushers like Ki-Jana Carter, Curtis Enis and Larry Johnson.

This year, the team has settled in with tailback Silas Redd, who just so happens to lead the Big Ten in rushing (886 yards through eight games). The 5-10, 210-pound sophomore is coming off a career-high 164 yards against Northwestern last week and has provided offensive stability, in lieu of questionable play under center.

Penn State has two quarterbacks in Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden, but neither has stepped up to take over the starting duties on a weekly basis. McGloin has completed 58.7 percent of his throws, for 1,095 yards with seven TDs and just two interceptions, while Bolden has completed a dismal 44.9 percent of his throws, for 526 yards with one TD and four INTs. The team has some talent on the outside in the form of Justin Brown, Devon Smith and the soon to return Derek Moye, but their production, or lack thereof, is obviously directly linked to the inconsistent play of the quarterbacks.

The Penn State defense took a big hit with the loss of star linebacker Michael Mauti in the fourth game of the season. The unit has not missed a beat, though. Players like Gerald Hodges and Nate Stupar in the linebacking corps, Devon Still along the defensive line and Nick Sukay and Drew Astorino in the secondary, have all stepped up and performed at a high level.

Entering this week, the Nittany Lions rank first in the Big Ten in scoring defense (13.1 ppg) and interceptions (12), second in both rush defense (101.9 ypg) and total defense (281.9 ypg) and third in pass defense (180.0 ypg).

Paterno is on the verge of passing Robinson as the winningest coach in Division I history. To accomplish that this weekend, the Nittany Lions will have to defeat a strong Illinois team that was in the top-25 as recently as last week.

While Penn State is currently sitting atop the Leaders Division standings, a lot has to happen over the last month of the season to remain there. Three of the last four games are divisional matchups. Following the Illinois game, the Nittany Lions will face Nebraska at home and Ohio State and Wisconsin on the road.

While Paterno is obviously in the twilight of his coaching career, there remains the hope that he has at least one more run in him -- regardless of where he is in the stadium.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Scott Haynes at shaynes@sportsnetwork.com.

Follow Scott Haynes on Twitter and Facebook.

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