When you lose to the defending national champions and No. 1 ranked team in the land on the road, there aren't a whole lot of things that are going to look pretty.
Nevertheless, when looking at Penn State's 24-3 loss to Alabama through the prism of Joe Paterno's "learning experience" mantra, it's hard not to come away encouraged about several parts of Penn State's performance on Saturday night in Tuscaloosa.. The freshman quarterback was not overcome by the big stage. The offensive line had another solid day in pass protection, allowing the Lions to move the ball. And the defense, despite all its poor tackling, held Alabama to 24 points and only seven in the second half after getting slammed by an initial assault by Trent Richardson and Greg McElroy.
The running game, however, looked flat out poor. First and second string backs Evan Royster and Stephfon Green managed only 45 yards between them on 14 carries, a 3.2 yard per carry average. That's not going to get it done against most Big Ten teams let alone Alabama.
Of course, you could always write the performance off to playing against Alabama, but consider:
- The Tide had 10 of 11 new starters in on defense.
- The offensive line didn't allow a sack and allowed Robert Bolden and the wideouts to move the ball fairly effectively.
- Freshman Silas Redd had 26 yards on five rather meaningful carries for a 5.2 yard per carry average. It was his second straight week of out performing his upper class teammates, and he showed some really nice moves.
Stephfon Green is a career backup/change of speed guy, so it's difficult to be too hard on him. Evan Royster is supposed to be the work horse for this offense. He was supposed to be the guy that would keep Penn State in it against Alabama. Instead he carried only nine times and caught one pass for negative yardage. He was a non-factor after being a non-factor last week.
To be fair, the line bears a lot of responsibility for the running game failing to establish itself. You can always open up bigger holes an give your guy more room to run. However, that unit seemed to play decently with everyone but Evan Royster holding the football. Coincidence? Probably not.
Joe Paterno put Royster on notice Saturday night by playing Silas Redd during meaningful late game snaps instead of trying to establish the run with the senior back. He's made comments in the past few weeks about Royster's weight and it's clear Paterno is getting a little annoyed.
He needs to shut the critics up and 40 yards isn't going to do that.
Make no mistake. Royster still needs to be Penn State's guy. As promising as Redd has looked, let's face it: it's eight carries. Let's not get carried away. We've seen what Royster can do many times in the past. We know why he's in position to take Curt Warner's rushing record. He's one of the best backs to ever play for this school.
He's also not nearly the reason Penn State lost to Alabama.
That said, he's struggling, and Penn State is not going to contend for a Big Ten championship if he continues to play like this. NFL scouts told him to go back to school and build up his carries to prove he can bear the burden of an NFL workload and so far, he's proven nothing.
It's time for Evan Royster to step up.