Speedy linebackers dot conference (Football)

David Kalan

While the Big Ten has been a haven for offenses, Big Ten coaches discussed yesterday how defenses now rely on talented linebackers.

“It seems like every team right now has good linebackers,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Ohio State’s trio played super against us, Penn State’s got outstanding linebackers and you just go down the list.”

The Big Ten has traditionally been marked by defensive play. But with the influence of the spread offense more defenses have had to adapt.

Now speed is at a premium as shown by Ohio State’s linebackers.

“If you can find those guys that are that big and that mobile then the flexibility it provides you is tremendous,” Michigan State coach John L. Smith said. “Ohio State’s lucky to have three of them.”

Penn State has another solid group, although at “Linebacker U,” history leaves a lot to live up to.

“This is a really good group of kids,” coach Joe Paterno said. “Some of the younger kids I wouldn’t put in the class of the real great ones yet, except Paul Pozluszny. He’s as good a linebacker as we’ve had around here.”

Other schools now recruit for speed and converting players when necessary. Northwestern’s Tim McGarigle is a prime example.

“I just thought he was an awful good football player,” said Randy Walker. “He was probably more known as a running back in high school, but you could see him as a football player.”

Walker notes McGarigle, who had 25 tackles this week against Wisconsin, had the challenge gainin the muscle strength of a typical linebacker.

“He was a freshman starter here at 205 and got bounced around like a ping pong ball.”

A change in tone for the Hoosiers

One of coach Terry Hoeppner’s top priorities at Indiana has been changing the culture of losing that surrounded Hoosier football.

“Our marketing people have really done a great job,” Hoeppner said. “I tried to reach out to our students and that’s been the most rewarding part that our students are excited.”

Hoeppner, a native of Indiana, arrived as the head coach this year from Miami (Ohio) leading the Hoosiers to a 4-1 start.

The atmosphere already seems to be changing as young talent, including quarterback Blake Powers and wide receiver James Hardy, has given renewed hope.

“Right now the contrast is pretty stark,” Hoeppner said. “I said from day one we need an attitude adjustment and we need to start with our players and work towards our students and alumni.”

Hoeppner has said that having been around the state to spread goodwill, it is important to the people of Indiana to have a winning football team, noting that one in every 15 people in Indiana is an alumnus of the University.

“The reaction I get around the state is very positive,” Hoeppner said. “People are excited.

Still crazy after all these years

Even through recent losing campaigns, Paterno, whose job many fans have called for, has never contemplated retiring.

“I enjoyed last year,” Paterno said. “We didn’t win as many games as I’d like, but we were in every game – If you’ve got kids that wanna play and they react to you, it’s fun.”

This season has been a change of fortune for Penn State, who is now No. 8 in the nation and undefeated. The recent win over Ohio State even prompted a recanting of rancor on FireJoePaterno.com. The vitriolic website now proclaims “Major Changes Coming to this site after the win over Ohio State.” Still the site warns that the changes will come “with stipulations.”

Paterno, who insists on a weekly basis that he doesn’t read the papers, seems like he isn’t ready to leave the world of fight songs and pep rallies.

“People say to me ‘Why don’t you give it up?'” Paterno said. “I don’t because I don’t want to miss out on some of that stuff.

“I’ve never had a bad time.”

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