Joe Paterno is about to coach his 700th game on the Penn State staff. Kevin Wilson is in Game 5 at Indiana. Don't let the 695-game discrepancy fool you.
Aside from Wilson's Southern drawl and Paterno's raspy voice, it's hard telling these guys apart in some ways. The two coaches find themselves in similar predicaments heading into Saturday's Big Ten opener. Both are trying to fix inefficient offenses.
``We've got to create speed and force coming off the ball, we've got to get behind our pads,'' Wilson said. ``We've got to get better on run offense and run defense.''
It's not just noise. While those outside the programs in State College and Bloomington are debating the quarterback situation, the coaches are looking to make corrections in other places. They know that one more block or one more third-down conversion could be the difference between scoring a touchdown or settling for a field goal, and that it could be the difference between contending for a league title or making a bowl game. Wilson, the energetic newcomer, and Paterno, the wily veteran, believe that everything starts with getting the little things right.
``We can't have stupid penalties. We had four major penalties last week. Three of them were foolish. One was field position,'' Paterno said. ``We've got to kick the ball better. There's a lot of things that surround success and the quarterback's part of it, but our quarterbacking has been fine. That's not our problem.''
Meeting expectations is. The excitement Wilson brought with him from Oklahoma has waned with the Hoosiers' early-season struggles. The Hoosiers (1-3) have already lost to teams from the Mid-American Conference (Ball State) and the Sun Belt (North Texas). And though the Hoosiers have been quick starters and strong finishers, the offense has been stagnant in between.
Only four league schools have scored fewer points than Indiana's 110, and the Hoosiers have the lowest rushing average (3.5 yards per carry) in the conference. So starting 1-0 in league play for the first time since 2000 would certainly create some excitement at Indiana.
``We need balance, we need toughness, we don't want turnovers,'' Wilson said. ``I think we're close because we've been coming back, fighting. But the other night (at North Texas) it seemed like the offense wasn't even on the field until the end.''
Wilson could faced a similar scenario this week. Three of Indiana's top receivers (Damarlo Belcher, Kofi Hughes and Duwyce Wilson) are all battling injuries. Belcher missed last week's game with a bruised bone, while Hughes and Wilson combined for only three catches against North Texas. Offensive lineman Josh Hager (knee) has been ruled out for the season and last year's No. 1 running back, Darius Willis, has likely seen his career end after failing to return from knee surgery last October. They could use all five against Penn State's traditionally strong defense. There's a similar refrain in the Nittany Lions' locker room. As usual, the defense is ranked in the top half of the Big Ten against the pass, the run, overall and in points allowed. The problem: The Nittany Lions (3-1) also have the league's second-lowest scoring average (25.0 per game) and worst rushing per-game average (137.0).
``We definitely need to have the intensity that we've been having at practice and the intensity to get really ready for this,'' center Matt Stankiewitch said. ``We have to be ready and be focused every practice and that's where it starts.''
Paterno has demonstrated through the years that he can get things fixed. He's won two national championships, three Big Ten crowns and has a perfect 14-0 record against the Hoosiers. This Saturday's game, the first in Leaders Division history, could be just what Penn State needs to right things.
``We've got a long way to go yet to be really, feel like we're not only as good as we can be, but as good as we're going to have to be,'' Paterno said. ``But we've made progress.''
Wilson believes his team has, too. And the Big Ten opener may demonstrate which coach has figured it out.
``If we play to our potential, it will be a great game,'' Wilson said. ``But we're not going to win games scoring 20 points per game like we've been doing. We've got to get better.''