Royster must turn Tide at 'Bama


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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- For a guy who is running to make Penn State history, running to get off coach Joe Paterno's spit list and running to shake a new and unwanted reputation for being the fattest of Nittany Lion cats, Evan Royster didn't cover much ground Saturday. Would you believe 40 measly yards on 11 carries? Penn State didn't need him to beat Youngstown State, 44-14, in its opening game, thanks to precocious quarterback Rob Bolden, who didn't at all resemble a nervous freshman making his college football debut in front of 100,000-plus at Beaver Stadium. But Paterno and the Nittany Lions will need him in a big way if they're going to have any chance of hanging with No. 1 Alabama Saturday night in Tuscaloosa.

"I'm excited about going down there," Royster said.

The thought made Royster smile, maybe the only time he smiled after Penn State pushed Paterno's record in opening games to 38-7. That might be the most amazing statistic in college football. A lot of coaches don't win 38 games in a career. Paterno has won 38 openers.

But back to Royster ...

He was happy about the Penn State win but about little else, it seemed. You know it's been a rough day in a rough week when visions of the great Alabama defense are all that make you smile. Alabama hadn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 34 games heading into its opener against San Jose State Saturday night. "It would be great to be the guy to break that streak," Royster said.

That might be a bit of reach based on what happened here Saturday. The numbers said this was Royster's third-worst game since becoming Penn State's starting tailback at the beginning of the 2008 season. He gave the Youngstown State defense its due, saying it "kept a lot of guys in the box" and "called some good defenses against a lot of our running plays." Paterno, who not only made Bolden the first true freshman quarterback to start the Penn State opener in 100 years but also rode his powerful and surprisingly accurate right arm for 239 yards and two touchdowns, agreed. "We certainly didn't dominate from the running game. They made us throw the football. Thank God, the kids did a pretty good job."

Royster came in needing 481 yards to break Curt Warner's 27-year Penn State career rushing record. At a pace of 40 yards-per-game, he won't get there until the Nittany Lions' bowl game, presumably sometime after Paterno turns 84 Dec. 21.

Not to be negative.

Royster fairly scowled when the record was mentioned in a slightly more positive context.

"It's not something I think about in my free time," he said.

Free time?

Who has free time these days?

Like many athletes -- college and professional -- Royster has started to tweet on Twitter. It's probably a good thing that Paterno doesn't even do e-mail. The social media of today would drive him nuts.

"stop trippin about my weight people," Royster tweeted Wednesday. "im 218 pounds ... 4 lbs heavier than a year ago ... 4 lbs!!"

This was in response to a mild public spanking from Paterno the day before.

"Evan Royster is a little heavy," the old coach said.

Royster admitted he was too big at the start of training camp, perhaps 227 or 228 pounds. "But I wanted to gain weight before camp and then drop it during camp. That's what I did. I'm 218 pounds now. I want to play at 218. I feel good. I think I look good. I don't have any bad weight on me right now."

Paterno probably won't care what Royster weighs as long as he gets those pounds moving in the right direction. Saturday night in Tuscaloosa would be a great time for that to happen. Penn State will line up against, Paterno said, "maybe as good a team as we've played since Miami in the Fiesta Bowl in 1986."

A kid will lead the Nittany Lions into Bryant-Denny Stadium. "He exceeded the expectations today," Royster said of Bolden, 18. "Everyone told him, 'Act like it's practice.' And he did ... It had to be real nerve-racking for him. I couldn't imagine going out there like that. I was nervous going to practice as a freshman."

But a man will have to lead the Nittany Lions on the field if they're going to have any chance of winning. Royster, 22, really will have to do some running that night. Another 40-yard game simply won't get it done.

"We need to come out a lot stronger than we did today," Royster said. "We can't come out and get behind and get down on ourselves."

With that, the man was off into the unseasonably cool late State College afternoon. Friends and family were waiting. Congratulations, hugs, handshakes and pats on the back. A nice meal ...

Not too big of a meal, though.

Paterno will tell you the harsh truth.

When it comes to Royster, even tweeting is preferable to eating.


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com . Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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