When Penn State assistant head coach Fran Ganter wasn't in his
office in the Lasch Football Building this summer, he could often
be found down the hall in the weight room, riding an exercise
bike while analyzing tape of the Nittany Lions' first three
opponents this season, Temple, Boston College and Nebraska. "I've
got a stack of tapes next to the bike and a remote for the VCR,"
says Ganter, who serves as Penn State's offensive coordinator.
"Some guys read the paper. I watch tape."
Touchdowns were abundant in Happy Valley last fall as tailback
Larry Johnson ran for 23 of them to pace an offense that was 13th
in the nation in scoring. But LJ and his 2,087 rushing yards are
gone, as are All-Big Ten receiver Bryant Johnson and four
starters on the line. That means Ganter, in his 33rd year as a
Nittany Lions coach, has some furious pedaling to do to keep the
offense going. "You always think, We can never replace a player
like Larry," says Ganter. "But the neat part of college football
is that someone rises to the occasion."
That someone may be Michael Robinson, a 6'2", 225-pound sophomore
who at one time or another last year lined up at quarterback,
running back and wideout. He gained 426 yards throwing, catching
and running the ball (he was the Nittany Lions' second-leading
passer and rusher) and scored six TDs. In the spring, coach Joe
Paterno let Robinson challenge incumbent starting quarterback
Zack Mills. While Mills kept his job, Paterno--who insists he's a
"one-QB guy"--knows he can't afford to keep Robinson on the
sideline. "We've got to get Michael in the game, but I don't want
to get him too far away from playing quarterback," says Paterno.
"It wouldn't be fair to him."
Nor would it be fair to replace Mills, a 6'3", 216-pound junior
who did a good job running the offense. A scrambling playmaker,
Mills threw for 2,417 yards and 17 touchdowns while directing an
offense that gained most of its yards on the ground. With the
tailback position up in the air--junior Mike Gasparato heads an
unproven group of candidates--Mills will look to throw more often
to senior wideout Tony Johnson (Larry's younger brother). "More
emphasis is going to be placed on the passing game this year, and
I'm ready for that," says Mills. "At the end of last year we ran
Larry to death, but it was hard not to when he was running for
200 yards a game."
For his part, Tony Johnson doesn't care who's under center.
"We've got two quarterbacks who can do a heck of a job," he says.
"We're young, but we can still make things happen." --M.B.
COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY LIONIZED Robinson, who can line up at quarterback, running back or wideout, could be the next offensive hero in Happy Valley.
2002 RECORD 9-4 (5-3, 4th in Big Ten)
FINAL AP RANK 16
RETURNING STARTERS 12
KEY RETURNEES (2002 stats)
LB Gino Capone (Sr.)
Made 86 tackles despite missing three games
LB Derek Wake (Jr.)
10 of 51 tackles were behind line of scrimmage
QB Zack Mills (Jr.)
Third-best passing season (2,417 yards) at PSU
WR Tony Johnson (Sr.)
Larry's brother had 34 catches for 549 yards
CB Rich Gardner (Sr.)
Returned two interceptions for scores
Passing yards Zack Mills needs to pass Tony Sacca as Penn State's
alltime leader. Mills enters 2003 sixth in Nittany Lions history.
Sophomore Charles Rush, a defensive line backup last year, is
poised to join the O-line, which lost four senior starters. At
6'2" and 298 pounds, Rush could have an immediate impact. "He
wasn't in the picture in January," says offensive coordinator
Fran Ganter. "Now he's probably going to be one of the starting
AUG. 30 TEMPLE
SEPT. 6 BOSTON COLLEGE
13 AT NEBRASKA
20 KENT STATE
OCT. 4 WISCONSIN
11 AT PURDUE
25 AT IOWA
NOV. 1 OHIO STATE
8 AT NORTHWESTERN
22 AT MICHIGAN STATE