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September 8, 2010

Penn State at Alabama about as hard-hitting as it gets

TUSCALOOSA _ Just the mere mention brings a wide-eye look to the face of University of Alabama sophomore running back Trent Richardson.

The Crimson Tide initially showed it against San Jose State, on the wildcat end-around carry by wide receiver Julio Jones, who turned it into a 13-yard gain. The primary blockers in front of him, lined up next to one another on the left side were massive tackles James Carpenter and D.J. Fluker.

On Tuesday that combination went to another level when during the observation period of practice Carpenter lined up outside of Fluker on the right side where a tight end might normally be. Apparently the idea isn't just a mere flash on the formation radar, but something every opponent will have to prepare for.

"You got some big boys to run behind and they're taking care of you," Richardson said. "I'm not scared of anything when I run behind them, not at all."

While it'll be a hit with fans, and figures to be this year's equivalent to putting nose tackle Terrence Cody in the backfield near the goal-line, when it comes to Alabama that's about it in terms of unorthodox play-calling. Granted, the Crimson Tide will try a trick play every once in a while, especially if the coaches notice something on film, but otherwise the closest thing to being untraditional in Tuscaloosa is probably the pistol formation or someone other than the quarterback taking a snap.

"The wildcat package is something that a lot of teams are preparing for more," sophomore guard Barrett Jones said. "They kind of recognize it and call things for it more, but that's fine with us. Everyone's seen the wildcat.

"It is something we definitely want to do, but we also just want to line up and knock people off the ball."

That's what makes this Saturday's game at Bryant-Denny Stadium such a treat for football purists, because Penn State pretty much plays the same way. It even translates down to both teams wearing such simple, yet elegant uniforms -- many believe the best in college football.

"We have a circle around Penn State just because of the standard of excellence they have," junior linebacker Chris Jordan said. "They're going to come out and play hard-nosed football and we like that. We have a standard of excellence ourselves, of being tough to the point of attack, and we're going to just come out and play our type of defense. On offense we're going to go at all cylinders and try and put points on the board.

"They're going to try and hit us in the mouth so we better be ready. That's what we've been preparing for this week, a tough game."

Ironically, it comes immediately after the most difficult opponent in terms of preparation, San Jose State. New head coach Mike McIntyre was previously the defensive coordinator at Duke, defensive coordinator Kent Baer last held that position at Washington (2005-07) and no one knew for sure what kind of offense the Spartans would execute. Consequently, Alabama spent time preparing for things it never saw in the game.

This is the exact opposite. With Joe Paterno in his 45th year as head coach, and 61st year at Penn State, the Nittany Lions are pretty much a what-you-see-is-what-you-get team.

"I'm really looking forward to it," sophomore linebacker Dont'a Hightower said. "I'm not one of those guys who likes to play teams like San Jose State, teams that run a lot of split-draws and reads, that try to confuse you with their eyes and a lot of motion as opposed to teams like Penn State, LSU, Ole Miss, those kinds of teams that go downhill, I-formation, powers, not too much of the fool you around. Just straight up who's gonna win, who's going to break who's will."

Although Penn State senior tailback Evan Royster is coming off a sub-par game with just 40 rushing yards on 11 carries against Youngstown State, he actually has more career yards than Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram with 2,958 and needs just 441 to break Curt Warner's school record (FYI, Ingram has 2,386 and Shaun Alexander has the Alabama career record with 3,565).

Meanwhile, Alabama and Penn State were two of just three teams in the nation that didn't allow a 100-yard rusher last season (Ohio State being the other). While the Tide's streak has reached 35 straight games (the last being Ole Miss' BenJarvus Green-Ellis, 131 yards in 2007), Penn State's is up to 17.

"They're a hard-nosed team," said Richardson, who became an even bigger target Tuesday when Sports Illustrated put him on this week's cover after his first career start. "They like getting in a dog fight, they love to come at you. They're going to challenge us, so we need to challenge ourselves in practice every day and be ready for (them).

"That's when you're big time players show. We're going to go toe-to-toe with these boys and see who the bigger man comes out."

But there are two uncharacteristic things about this particular Penn State team, or more specifically young spots. Attracting the most attention last week was Rob Bolden at quarterback and completing 20 of 29 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns, the best passing performance by a Nittany Lion true freshman starter in program history (although it's a very short list).

"I was skinny, the game was moving 100 miles an hour, but I don't think I was as highly-touted coming out of high school," said senior quarterback Greg McElroy about himself as a freshman. "It's not a sprint, it's a marathon for me. It worked out."

The other is at linebacker, the traditional strength of the Penn State defense where there's three new starters in senior Chris Colasanti, junior Nate Stupar and senior Bani Gbadyu, playing between a physical defensive line and veteran secondary.

"They do a really good job," McElroy said. "They're really well-coached. They do a good job tackling. They're obviously known for their athletic and really talented linebackers. They have some of those. They do a really good job with their coverages. It's not the most difficult defense I've even seen, but they're so sound. I really do a very good job of being in the right place at the right time. It's kind of fun to watch."

It should be for fans on Saturday evening in an old-school type matchup that Jordan believes will be won by the more physical team. Consequently that Fluker-Carpenter tidal wave-type formation might be seen again, both in and out of the wildcat as the Tide hopes to maximize its playmakers.

"Any way they can get me the ball, I'll take it," Julio Jones said.


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