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Kent State's defense may test Penn State

September 18, 2010

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) -- The nation's best rush defense will be on the field this weekend at Beaver Stadium -- and it doesn't belong to No. 22 Penn State.

Kent State is a statistical brick wall against the run entering the third week of the season, allowing just 11 yards a contest on the ground. These Golden Flashes may not be an early season pushover after all for the Nittany Lions (1-1) and their sluggish running game today.

"As a defensive line, we go into this game with all the confidence in the world," said Kent State end Lee Stalker, of Butler, Pa. "Going into this Penn State game, we know personally we can do it."

Bold talk from a Mid-American Conference player whose team lost 26-13 at Boston College last weekend. But Kent State (1-1) did hold the Eagles to 87 yards rushing on 40 carries, and that was a week after limiting Murray State to minus-65 in the season opener.

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A big day for Nittany Lions tailback Evan Royster might be more impressive than initially expected when this game landed on the schedule. Saturday may be much more than a Big Ten tuneup -- there is confidence to rebuild on both sides of the ball after a 24-3 loss last week at top-ranked Alabama.

The defense got roughed up by the Crimson Tide's offensive line and bruising running back Trent Richardson. Freshman quarterback Rob Bolden was able to move the offense between the 30s, but the unit was foiled by mistakes in Tide territory, including two Bolden interceptions.

Then there's Royster and the offensive line. Royster has just 72 yards on 20 carries this season, not quite the start expected for a tailback only 409 from the Penn State career rushing record of 3,398 held by Hall of Famer Curt Warner for nearly three decades.

"We need to stay on blocks a little bitter. It's been hit and miss. Hitting the hole at the right time, hitting hard," receiver and offensive team captain Brett Brackett said. "It's something we've been working hard on, so I expect to see some positives in terms of running the ball."

All that fuss a couple weeks ago about Bolden? It's faded into the background for now with other issues rising to the top of coach Joe Paterno's to-do list this week. Paterno is comfortable enough with Bolden that he declared the quarterback competition officially over.

"He's our quarterback," Paterno said of the 18-year-old Bolden. "I think for a kid who wasn't even here for spring practice, to go in there and do what he's done, he's done well."

Over two games, Bolden has completed 57 percent of his passes for 383 yards and two TDs, along with three interceptions. Teammates like his poise in the pocket.

Kent State coach Doug Martin liked what he saw from Bolden so much in the Alabama game that the performance reminded him of a QB in Ohio who made headlines as a freshman.

"He reminds me of (Ohio State quarterback) Terrelle Pryor," Martin said. "I thought he played with great poise. I thought he grew up as the game went along. He's just going to be an exceptional player."

To get to that point, Bolden will probably need a consistent running game to keep him out of third-and-long situations and keep defenses off balance.

Paterno knows that the Golden Flashes, who average 10 1/2 tackles for a loss per game, sense a golden opportunity to make a statement.

"But we're home and we've got some advantages in that sense," Paterno said. "But we've got ... I keep saying we've just got to get better. And we're going to have to get better this week in order to be able to handle Kent State."

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