What Distractions

Amid suspensions, injuries and a recent dismissal, Penn State seems to be handling the perceived turmoil surrounding it just fine.

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The No. 17 Nittany Lions will try to deliver a third straight impressive performance Saturday when they travel to Syracuse, renewing an old rivalry with the struggling Orange for the first time since 1990.

Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made Penn St -27 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 81% of bets for this game have been placed on Penn St -27 (View College Football bet percentages).

The mood around the University Park, Pa., campus has been tense since the offseason, when two defensive lineman were dismissed from the program for unspecified reasons, and the distractions have kept coming. Coach Joe Paterno suspended two starting defenders for the team's game last Saturday against Oregon State, four days after police allegedly found marijuana residue in an on-campus apartment they shared.

In addition, cornerback Willie Harriott was kicked off the team last Thursday, a day after he was cited for driving with a suspended license and 10 months after being charged with driving under the influence and speeding.

The Nittany Lions (2-0) were without Big Ten defensive player of the year candidate Maurice Evans and fellow lineman Abe Koroma last week, but the losses on defense didn't matter. Penn State's offense, which racked up nearly 600 yards in a season-opening win over Coastal Carolina, struck for 28 points in the game's first 19 minutes en route to a 45-14 rout of Oregon State.

"We got to go out and focus on football,'' said Josh Gaines, a defensive end and team captain. "We got a good team here, great players. If we really want to get something done, we can get it done.''

Paterno initially suspended tight end Andrew Quarless along with Evans and Koroma, but later allowed Quarless to dress although he didn't play. Paterno said this week that he's taking a "day by day" approach regarding the two lineman.

Penn State's defense forced two turnovers against the Beavers, but the standout unit for the second week in a row was the team's offense. Quarterback Daryll Clark was in a battle for the starting job during the preseason that seemed to extend into the opening game, in which Pat Devlin saw action in the first half. Clark, though, cemented his No. 1 status Saturday, going 14-for-23 for 215 yards and two touchdowns and running for 61 yards and another score.

"We were very confident going into this week," Clark said. "Joe talked to us and showed us how serious this was. (They) had the potential to come in here and steal one if we weren't too careful."

When Clark hasn't been passing - or running - he's handed the ball to tailback Evan Royster, who's had an impressive first few weeks. The sophomore has 205 yards on the ground - averaging 8.2 per carry - and has scored three touchdowns in each game. He was named the Big Ten offensive player of the week after running for 141 yards against Oregon State.

Penn State and Syracuse (0-2) met every season from 1922 to 1990 - the Nittany Lions lead the series 40-23-5 - but the rivalry went on hiatus once Penn State joined the Big Ten.

While the Orange were regular bowl contenders around the time the series wasn't renewed, they've become a bottom-tier program in the Big East in recent years. Syracuse came into this year 7-28 in three seasons under coach Greg Robinson, and it hasn't looked any better in 2008.

The Orange dropped their opener 30-10 on Aug. 30 at Northwestern, producing just 225 yards of offense, then were embarrassed 42-28 at the Carrier Dome by Mid-American Conference opponent Akron last Saturday.

"What can I say other than I've got to go and get these guys playing?" Robinson said. "That was not a good showing today and everyone knows it. That's the bottom line."

One bright spot for Syracuse was senior Curtis Brinkley's 143-yard rushing effort, which included a touchdown.

Quarterback Cameron Dantley played against Akron after Andrew Robinson struggled in the Northwestern game, and Dantley went 13-for-20 for 135 yards and a touchdown. He'll get the start against Penn State.

"All in all, I think he did a very good job," Robinson said.

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