STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – The game Penn State fans have circled on their calendars for years is almost here.
"It's awesome. It gets to show the world what you have," linebacker Nate Stupar said about the marquee matchup. "You've got to show people what your team can do and show people who you are."
Penn State (1-0) goes from an overwhelming favorite in its 44-14 season-opening rout Saturday of the Penguins to a decided underdog for its trip to Tuscaloosa. The defending national champions beat San Jose State 48-3 without Heisman Award winner Mark Ingram (knee) or suspended defensive end Marcell Dareus.
With or without them, Alabama will pose a stiff challenge to Penn State's true freshman quarterback Rob Bolden — if he gets the starting nod. Bolden showed poise, a strong arm and nice touch in throwing for 239 yards and two touchdowns, the best passing performance by a true freshman at the school.
But the Crimson Tide are no Penguins.
And coach Joe Paterno is loath to heap any added pressure on a first-year player who turned 18 in February. Bolden beat out returning sophomores Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin in a tight race for the starting job.
Maybe that's why the 83-year-old Hall of Famer was noncommittal about Bolden after Saturday's impressive debut.
"The competition that might work best for us to be at least competitive with a team that is as sound as Alabama, and as well coached as Alabama (may be) a whole different combination of people (than) what we used today," Paterno said. "I don't know. I will need to spend more time looking at Alabama."
Quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno — the head coach's son — said Bolden would likely enter practice this week as the starter, though there would still be competition.
While the offensive line protected Bolden fairly well, the running game mostly sputtered early with star tailback Evan Royster gaining just 40 yards on 11 carries. The Nittany Lions were a little unsure of what kinds of blitzes or schemes Youngstown State would use because of the school's new coaching staff.
Penn State did adjust, and the insertion of Johnnie Troutman at left guard helped give the line and Royster a boost in the second quarter.
"We may have been a little better than I think we were on the offensive line, but we certainly did not dominate them in the run game," Paterno said. "They made us run the football and thank goodness (Bolden) did a pretty good job."
Defensively, Penn State got just one sack against a Penguins offense that often resorted to screens, quick passes or a no-huddle scheme. Redshirt freshman Kurt Hess was 21 of 25 for 189 yards in his debut, including a middle screen to Dominique Barnes that turned into an 80-yard touchdown.
Some missed tackles hampered Penn State early, but the defense settled down, with Stupar (one sack) and Chris Colasanti (13 tackles) leading the way for the new-look linebacking corps.
Lost in the attention on Bolden was the notable improvement for the Nittany Lions' special teams — a season-long concern in 2009. Collin Wagner kicked three field goals of over 40 yards; new punter and kickoff specialist Anthony Fera performed well; Chaz Powell had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown; and Penn State was solid on kick coverage.
"We have been waiting for this time so we can strictly focus on" Alabama, linebacker Michael Mauti said. "We did not want to look past Youngstown State. ... Now we can 100 percent focus on Alabama."