DEAR SANTA: The shame here is you cannot see Kain Colter's face. It is aglow, borderline beatific, reminiscent of that look worn by a boy as he opens his presents on Christmas morning. This is appropriate, really, since we are now discussing the offense the 'Cats unwrapped last Saturday against Indiana, that offense that found him once again multitasking. "There's a lot of different things we can do with it," he is saying, clearly excited about its myriad possibilities.
"Really, you just saw me in the slot (against the Hoosiers), at one position and and (with) one personnel group. We could switch up the personnel group, who we have in the game, switch up where I'm going to line up, the plays that we run. There's a lot of things the coaches can do with that. Now, I don't really know exactly where it's going to go. I leave that up to Coach (Mick) McCall (the offensive coordinator) and the other offensive coaches, let them game-plan. But we can have some fun with it and I'm excited for it."
Is it fun to come in each week and see just what they have planned for him?
"It is, it is," says Colter, and now he is veritably beaming. "Especially when they're drawing up the plays, you kind of visualize it in your head and picture yourself doing it in the game. It's fun to kind of see it in your head and then finally it happens in the game. It's a good feeling."
THE REALITY: This is no easy thing, this multitasking. "Really, it's football 24/7," says Colter when asked how he prepares for that. "I get a lot of my knowledge being in the quarterback room and seeing what coach wants. When I'm at receiver or running back or wherever I'm going to play, I'm going to learn about that in the quarterback room. From that, we just started class, the first week of class is always tough, you're worrying about that. Then after that we come back and watch film at least twice-a-day. We'll come back around 5:15, take a little nap, then we'll usually come back around and finish up our film study. We've got a lot of preparing to do. But I feel that's just the sacrifice you have to make to have a great season."
THE SECRET: Colter, against the Hoosiers, caught nine passes for 131 yards even though, the week before, he spent not a moment in the receivers' room. He has, he will say, studied storied receivers like the Patriots' Wes Welker and Carolina's Steve Smith, and last year picked up more hints on technique by watching former 'Cats Jeremy Ebert and Drake Dunsmore. "But," he says, "getting in and out of cuts, being explosive off the line and being fast, that's all natural."
THE MINDSET: Stuff happens. This is why Colter will finally note, "I still feel I need to focus at quarterback, especially with the way things can go. Trevor (Siemian) can get dinged up in a second and now I'm back to being that guy. So you've really got to focus on quarterback. But at the same time, I'm playing a lot of roles right now and that's going to have to draw my attention. So there's a lot to focus on. But I think the biggest thing is, whatever the team needs that week, I'm able to focus on it. And it's fun. It's not really that tough. You get to go out there and make plays. That's what I've been doing."
ALL THAT, PLUS THIS: Read Zone is the name of that play where Colter puts the ball in the belly of his running back, analyzes the defensive end, and then either hands off or keeps the ball and himself runs. He scored each of his four touchdowns and gained most of his rushing yards last week on just this kind of play, which -- it turns out -- transforms him into a virtual lineman. "That helps the offense out. We're able to leave a guy unblocked," he explains. "Really, I'm the one blocking him. He's either going to take (running back) Venric (Mark) or h's going to take me. I'm really responsible for blocking that guy on that play, and the offensive line can go get some extra defenders. We really executed it well last week."
MAN TO MAN: The numbers tell a very pleasant story. The 'Cat defense is surrendering an average of just 90 rushing yards a game, best in the Big Ten and 13th best in the nation. But on Saturday at Penn State, for the first time this season, it will bump up against one of those downhill running attacks so familiar in its conference. "We haven't seen that a lot this year," end Quentin Williams will say of the Nittany Lions' zone-blocking scheme. "But we've worked on it a lot at practice since day one and, actually, our offense runs a lot of zone scheme. So for our defensive front going against their offensive line, I think we're pretty well prepared."
So it's no big deal?
"It's not a whole big deal. It's just different concepts we have to get used to since we haven't seen them in awhile. But as a defensive lineman, we work on those kinds of things everyday. So it's the same kind of stuff, just a little more concentrated."
Is facing a smash-mouth offense like Penn State's more fun than facing, say, an Indiana offense that is more wide open?
"I'm excited," says Williams with a smile. "As a defensive end, you might expect us to really want to rush the passer, which we love doing. But it's also nice to play real hard-nosed football once in awhile. It is fun for us, our defensive tackles especially. We like it a lot. It's kind of heavyweight guys going at it. That's always fun."
"We have been looking forward to it," concludes Brian Arnfelt, one of those tackles. "It's something, as a defensive line, you look forward to games like this. It's more our game."
QUICKLY NOTED: Penn State has won three straight after opening 0-2. . . Bill O'Brien, who succeeded Joe Paterno as its head coach, spent last season as the offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, which his why 'Cat coaches looked at Pats' films during their summer study. "But I don't think Tom Brady or (Rob) Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez are playing Saturday," said Pat Fitzgerald. "No disrespect to the kids at Penn State, but (the Pats) did some things very unique to the skill sets of those three guys. And Welker. You can see some similarities in the concepts and structures (at Penn State). But just a little bit different from the standpoint of personnel.". . . Matt McGloin, the Nittany Lion quarterback, is 101-of-170 for 1,217 yards with 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions. "Matt's picked up Coach O'Brien's system incredibly well," Fitzgerald said of him. "Obviously, Coach O'Brien had the best quarterback in the world to build a system around with Tom Brady and it's very quarterback user-friendly. But at the same time, they put a lot on the quarterback. They've got a lot of check-with-me-at-the-line to get them in the right play. If we show a weakness, go attack it. They give the quarterback that kind of flexibility and I think Matt's picked it up incredibly well.". . . Penn State defensive coordinator Ted Roof held the same position at Auburn when the 'Cats faced the Tigers in the 2010 Outback Bowl. "You never know what to expect from them," Colter said of the Nittany Lion defense, which is surrendering an average of just 13.6 ppg. "They don't have a base coverage. It's kind of a flavor-of-the-week.". . . The State College weather forecast for Saturday says high 50s and rain. This is why the 'Cats practiced outdoors Wednesday in the rain. "You've always got to have a plan for everything, if it's windy, if it's raining, I played a game in State College when it snowed," explained Fitzgerald. "You never know what might come, so you've got to have contingency plans. You go with your base plan, then you have your answers for the what-ifs. You don't have enough time in the week to check every ghost. But we do anticipate rain and we'll see how it goes."
AND FINALLY, SPEAKING OF PLANNING: The 'Cats always practice with music blaring to simulate the din that will surround them in the stadium on Saturday. But this week, with a hostile crowd of over 100,000 awaiting them, they took it a step further and also blared music during their meetings. "Not the whole meeting, but little bits of it to get completely and thoroughly annoyed," said Fitzgerald. "It's why most of the coaches have hoarse voices. We've been coaching loud."