UNIVERSITY PARK - Evan Royster spent much of the second half against Kent State on the Penn State sideline standing with his arms folded or sitting on the bench.
Early in the 24-0 win, it appeared Royster, who needed 409 yards coming into Saturday's game before an announced crowd of 100,610 at Beaver Stadium to break Curt Warner's career rushing record, was well on his way to returning to his old form.
His 15-yard scamper on the Nittany Lions' first series eventually led to quarterback Rob Bolden's 1-yard sneak into the end zone. Then Royster scored on a 3-yard run on the next series and finished the first quarter with 27 yards rushing.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Penn State defensive end Kevion Latham tries to block a pass by Kent State quarterback Spencer Keith on Saturday.
After that, both the offensive production and Royster went into a funk that plagued them for all of last week's loss to Alabama.
"They [Kent State] made a couple adjustments," quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno said. "They were pretty aggressive. We probably took our foot off the gas a little bit as well."
Royster didn't get another carry until well into the second quarter and finished with 38 yards on 11 carries, and the Lions didn't score again until Collin Wagner completed a 17-play, 80-yard drive with a 27-yard field goal in the third quarter.
Penn State 7, Kent State 0: Joe Paterno called out his team's lack of a running game on Tuesday, and the Lions attacked the middle of Kent State's defense six times for 18 yards. Evan Royster hit holes quicker than he has all year and became the sixth Penn State tailback to eclipse 3,000 rushing yards with a 15-yard run. The drive ended when Rob Bolden plunged in from 1 yard out for the QB's first rushing touchdown of his career.
Penn State 14, Kent State 0: Penn State started the drive with Bolden's beautiful playaction pass to Derek Moye, completing it for 55 yards despite pressure from Kent State. Royster again looked good, running twice for eight yards including a 3-yard TD and Devon Smith picked up a first down on third-and-5 from the 10 by scampering for seven yards. Had Doug Klopacz not gotten in the way, he might've been the one who scored.
Penn State 17, Kent State 0: It wasn't pretty, but Penn State churned out a 17 play, 80 yard drive that spanned 9:49 and ended on Collin Wagner's 27-yard field goal. The Nittany Lions ran the ball 11 times on the drive, and Stephfon Green did most of the heavy lifting with six carries for 52 yards. He also caught two passes.
Penn State 24, Kent State 0: In stark contrast to Penn State's last drive, the Nittany Lions scored in just 10 seconds on a 48-yard pass to Smith. Smith was in single coverage and burnt the Kent State cornerback, then made a nifty move at the 5 to score the first touchdown of his college career.
(Compiled by Josh Langenbacher)
Why Royster, who had run for 72 yards in the first two games, played sparingly in the second half and watched as Stephfon Green and Silas Redd carried the ball had many guessing, and coach Joe Paterno didn't really answer those questions afterward.
"He's a senior, and I think it's time to give these other kids a chance to get some experience," said Paterno, who has been loyal to his seniors throughout his career. "I thought Green did well when he was in there. We like Redd. When we got ahead and looked like we were doing all right, I figured we may as well play a couple of those kids."
Royster, whose weight gain, attitude and quickness, have been questioned early in the season, declined to talk to the media afterward.
"I think he's a great back, and he's going to get it together," guard Stefen Wisniewski said. "He's probably down a little bit because he's not getting as many carries as he's used to. We're spreading it around and making it tough for him to get into his game a little bit."
Green, on the other hand, was only too happy to talk afterward. The 5-foot-10, 197-pound redshirt junior, who led the Lions in rushing with 59 yards on 11 carries, was one of the last players to leave the Penn State media room.
"I'm a team player," Green said. "I'm not worried about the minutes I get. I worry about the yards I need to get for this team to keep a drive going. If it was up to me, I'd like the ball every down, but it's not up to me. But there's no I in team. So, when my team calls my number, I'm going to fight for every inch I can get."
For his part, Green was taking the high road on whether he should be starting ahead of Royster.
"I'm not going to get into no controversy," Green said. "It's up to the coaches upstairs. We're all competitive as running backs. You have to include Silas Redd because he's a step away from taking both of our spots."
Paterno said afterward that Green's durability was a problem in his career. The running back wasn't buying that.
"The only thing I can say they were concerned about was me fumbling the ball," Green said. "I've practiced hard. I don't see why they should be concerned about my ability and what I can do for this team."
The Lions certainly didn't need Green or Royster to carry the ball or for the offense to produce more. The closest the Golden Flashes came to the end zone was the Penn State 29 on their first series of the second half. The Lions held the Golden Flashes to 58 rushing yards in a 228-yard output and intercepted two passes.
"It feels great," defensive tackle Ollie Ogbu said. "It feels good to know that all of the game plan that you put in and the adjustments that you made actually paid off. One thing we wanted to improve on from last week was finishing off tackles, running to the ball and creating havoc."
"We were just trying to get better," defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. "We wanted to play the whole game. Coach Paterno spent a lot of time telling us things he wanted done and getting on some guys about what was expected of them. We've still got a long way to go defensively."
Flashes QB Spencer Keith, who completed 20-of-36 for 170 yards, threw a 14-yard pass to Sam Kirkland, but two incompletions and sophomore defensive end Sean Stanley throwing Jacquise Terry for a 1-yard loss left the ball at the 30. Terry and Pete Massaro were making their first starts at the ends.
The Flashes took over at the PSU 43 on that drive after Royster fumbled a less-than-perfect exchange from Bolden on the first play of the half. The Kent State drive ended with Freddy Cortez missing a 47-yard field goal.
Royster only had two more carries the rest of the half. Green did the bulk of the work on the 80-yard drive. Bolden, the freshman who was 17-of-27 for 217 yards and was picked off twice in his third start, completed four passes on the drive for 21 yards.
Bolden's only touchdown pass was a 48-yarder to Devon Smith, who waited for the ball to get to him, caught it and made a move on a defender to get to the end zone. On the series before, a beautiful 19-yard touchdown pass to Justin Brown was nullified because of holding. The drive ended with Wagner missing a 43-yard field goal.
"He had some good down-the-field throws," Jay Paterno said. "Even the touchdown that got called back was a great throw. When he got on the headset after the second interception, I could tell he was fine. The next couple drives he made some key third-down throws."
The Lions will now work on getting better in time for next Saturday's home game against Temple.
"I think we're getting better," guard Stefen Wisniewski said, "but there's certainly a ways to go. We really have to stop turning the ball over. That's killing us."