Everyone knows the national reputation of the Penn State football program. Octogenarian coach who still speaks wistfully of his 1940s high school career in Brooklyn when he was a single-wing tailback running Statue of Liberty and hook-and-ladder plays . . . Unflashy uniforms that never get a makeover to conform to someone else's idea of what is fashionable . . . All-America linebackers who seemingly are manufactured in some secret factory beneath Beaver Stadium.
Oh, yeah, and a running game that always pounds away at opponents like a hammer upon an anvil. The Nittany Lions' image is strictly old-school and, most would agree, more conservative than Newt Gingrich. There is a reason why Paterno-coached teams, and this is his NCAA-record 42nd year as the head coach at the same stand, always seem to churn out far more NFL-quality running backs than quarterbacks.
But as Bob Dylan - and there's an artist who probably isn't on JoePa's iPod, if indeed he even knows what that newfangled contraption is - once sang, the times they are a-changin'. And even stolid, dependable Penn State is changing along with them, into an era where long-held beliefs of what it takes to be successful on the field are taking on shaded nuances of revolution.
Another subtle reminder that not all things remain the same, even in Happy Valley, was dropped earlier this week with the listing of the Penn State depth chart for Saturday evening's ESPN-televised game against visiting Notre Dame.
For the first time in recent memory, and maybe ever, the 14th-ranked Lions have designated three wide receivers as starters, but no fullback.
The revised alignment upgrades junior wideout Jordan Norwood, who grabbed a game-high five passes for 92 yards in last week's 59-0 spanking of Florida International, to first-team status. Former starting fullback Matt Hahn, meanwhile, drops to No. 4 at running back, behind Austin Scott, Rodney Kinlaw and Evan Royster.
Next thing you know, the Lions will be sporting decals on the sides of blue helmets and experimenting with the run-and-shoot offense.
Or maybe not.
"We have so many wide receivers back, and myself," said senior quarterback Anthony Morelli, who, perhaps not coincidentally, registered career highs in pass attempts (38), completions (23) and passing yardage (295) against FIU, in addition to throwing for three touchdowns. "We feel comfortable with our passing game."
Also perhaps not coincidentally, Penn State is without Tony Hunt, the workhorse tailback who has taken his 277 rushing attempts and 1,386 rushing yards to the NFL's Eagles, leaving the ground attack in the hands of the top five backs on the depth chart - including two fullbacks - who combined for all of 50 carries last season.
Not that Morelli is so bold as to pronounce the dawning of a new era of Air Joe.
"We'll do whatever we have to in order to win football games, whether that's to run to open up the pass or vice versa," Morelli said. "Whatever the defense gives us, however we can move the ball, that'll be what we do throughout the year."
And that very well might be the case against Notre Dame, which was gouged for 196 rushing yards on 26 carries, and two touchdowns, by Georgia Tech's Tashard Choice in the Fighting Irish's 33-3 home loss last week, the worst opening-game defeat ever in the program's 120-year history.
If the same Notre Dame defense shows up Saturday that Choice shredded so effortlessly, Scott might feel as if he's running wild again for Parkland High in Allentown.
But, as is the case in play selection dictated by down-and-distance, Penn State's expected tilt toward the pass probably owes more to personnel than to philosophy.
Smurfish starting wide receivers Norwood (5-10, 172), Deon Butler (5-10, 168) and Derrick Williams (6-foot, 189) all caught 40 or more passes a year ago, the first time that has happened in the same season at Penn State.
If the Lions want to go bigger, there's 6-2, 210-pound sophomore Chris Bell - Norwood calls him the most talented wideout on the roster - and 6-3, 212-pound Terrell Golden, as well as 6-6, 241-pound converted quarterback Brett Brackett, who could prove useful on jump-ball plays in the end zone.
And the tight-end position also factors in, especially when 6-5, 252-pound sophomore Andrew Quarless' suspension for underage drinking ends (Paterno has yet to decide how long that will be). With Quarless out, another large target, 6-4, 250-pound Mickey Shuler, filled in and caught four passes for 54 yards and a touchdown against FIU.
"Maybe that is where this program is going offensively," Norwood said of the greater emphasis on the pass. "If so, that wouldn't bother me at all.
"I do think it's being emphasized a little more. And I think it should be. I don't think Penn State has had this much talent at wide receiver in a long time. We legitimately go six, seven receivers deep with no dropoff." *