Penn State notebook: Time (of possession) of the essence

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For three games in a row, Penn State’s next opponent, Minnesota, has dominated time of possession. The Gophers had the ball for 38 of 60 minutes against Indiana and 35 minutes each against Nebraska and Northwestern. They have won all three games.

Minnesota does this by running the ball, led by David Cobb and three other running backs with at least 300 rushing yards. The Gophers can wear a defense out. Against them, Penn State will face a quandary Saturday at Minnesota when it comes to time of possession. Ideally, Penn State likes to play at a fast pace, often using its NASCAR, no-huddle offense, a strategy that results in quick scoring but can also lead to more possession time for opponents.

“You can’t totally change what you do,” coach Bill O’Brien said, “but you’d better make sure you’re not just playing at warp speed the whole game.”

Time of possession has been an interesting barometer this season for Penn State. Though the Nittany Lions have an average time of possession of 29:57, that time has fluctuated greatly, particularly in Big Ten games. Penn State had the ball for 34 minutes against Illinois, 26 against Ohio State, 24 against Michigan and 35 against Indiana.

Time of possession also has had little effect on the team’s success. Against Indiana and Illinois, Penn State dominated time of possession, but it lost to Indiana and had one of its worst offensive outputs this season against Illinois, scoring just one field goal from the 13-minute mark of the second quarter until the end of regulation.

O’Brien said that the key, as one would expect, is scoring. Four of the NCAA’s highest-scoring teams in Oregon, Oklahoma State, Louisiana Tech and Baylor rank in the bottom 10 nationally in time of possession.

Penn State’s greatest scoring output this season came against Eastern Michigan, a game in which it had the ball for 28 minutes.

Its next best scoring game came against Michigan, and Penn State possessed the ball for 24 minutes in regulation.

“If you score in one minute and 50 seconds, that’s OK,” O’Brien said. “But your defense has only been on the bench for one minute and 50 seconds and you’d better make sure you keep scoring.”

Nearing the record

Allen Robinson is 41 yards away from reaching wide receiver Bobby Engram’s single-season receiving record of 1,084 yards. But records don’t seem to be Robinson’s focus.

“I would just say coming into this season the main focus was to be the best player I could be,” he said.

“I wasn’t targeting too many records or anything.”

O’Brien didn’t realize Robinson was approaching the record until someone brought it up at his news conference Tuesday.

“We don’t talk about records,” he said.

Akeel Lynch injury

O’Brien said running back Akeel Lynch sprained a knee ligament in the Ohio State game, keeping him out of the game Saturday against Illinois and keeping him day to day this week as Penn State prepares for Minnesota.

Lynch still leads Penn State in yards per carry (6.6), but he has carried the ball just 14 times in four conference games.


Mark Dent: mdent@post-gazette.com, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05.

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