Penn State's off week is coming at just the right time for coach Joe Paterno.
Paterno plans to meet with doctors this morning to have his aching right hip examined. He said during his weekly news conference yesterday that he may have to undergo surgery.
"They want to do some tests and see exactly where we are," he said. "I've really not given them an opportunity to get a professional look at what my situation might be.
"I think I'm going to have to get something done. I want to find out from them what they think has to be done and get it done maybe as soon as I can after the season's over, so I can get on the road and go out and recruit."
Asked if that meant he planned to be back next year, Paterno said: "Have I ever said I wasn't coming back?"
Penn State president Graham Spanier said last night that he and athletic director Tim Curley plan to meet with Paterno after the season to discuss Paterno's future. Paterno's contract expires after 2008.
Paterno, two months shy of his 82nd birthday, has been relegated to the coaches' booth the past four games. He also has been walking with the aid of a cane and has been watching practice from a golf cart.
"I'm uncomfortable, that's obvious," he said. "But it's fixable. ... They don't think it's something that's going to keep me out for a long time. ... I don't hear [six weeks]; I hear a couple of days."
Quarterback Daryll Clark also is on the mend.
Clark, who ranks second in the Big Ten Conference and 21st in Division I-A in passing efficiency with a 148.4 rating, sustained a mild concussion in Saturday's 13-6 victory against Ohio State. He was replaced by backup Pat Devlin, who engineered a 10-point fourth-quarter rally.
Clark will see limited practice time this week, but he is expected to return Nov. 8 when the Nittany Lions (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten) play at Iowa.
"They don't want him to practice for a couple days," Paterno said. "It's not necessary. In fact, it might be a chance to get both [third-stringer Paul] Cianciolo and Devlin a little more work. But I don't think there's any question [Clark's] going to be all right when we play Iowa."
Paterno held a squad meeting Monday and the Lions practiced without pads yesterday. The team will be back in pads today and tomorrow, then take the weekend off before resuming practice Monday.
"I think they need some time off," Paterno said. "Not only physically, they need some time off mentally. There's an awful lot of pressure when you're going through what we're going through and you can't let up on them.
"We're going to try to give them as much time off as we can without going backward. We can't afford to go backward. We got a long ways to go yet."
Penn State's offense ranks eighth nationally in scoring (41.8 points per game), 11th in rushing (226.3 yards per game) and 12th in offense (459.8 ypg).
The Lions have scored 45 or more points in six of their nine victories. They are No. 3 in the Big Ten in passing offense (233.4 ypg) and tied for No. 4 nationally in red zone success, converting 93.6 percent of their 47 opportunities (33 touchdowns, 11 field goals).
Defensively, Penn State has held five opponents to 10 points or fewer.
"We're playing good football," Paterno said. "If we play against everybody else like we played against Ohio State, we'll be in pretty good shape."
Paterno also praised the contribution of injured linebacker Sean Lee, who is serving as an honorary coach while on the mend from a torn knee ligament.
"I think Sean Lee's making good progress with his rehabilitation and he's been kind of an inspiration, I think, to some of the younger linebackers," Paterno said. "He coaches them all the time. He watches them. He's at practice every day. ... He's been a real plus. Obviously, we're looking forward to having him back next year."
Ron Musselman can be reached at email@example.com .