When Penn State assistant head coach Fran Ganter wasn't in his office in the Lasch Football Building this summer, he could often be found down the hall in the weight room, riding an exercise bike while analyzing tape of the Nittany Lions' first three opponents this season, Temple, Boston College and Nebraska. "I've got a stack of tapes next to the bike and a remote for the VCR," says Ganter, who serves as Penn State's offensive coordinator. "Some guys read the paper. I watch tape."
Touchdowns were abundant in Happy Valley last fall as tailback Larry Johnson ran for 23 of them to pace an offense that was 13th in the nation in scoring. But LJ and his 2,087 rushing yards are gone, as are All-Big Ten receiver Bryant Johnson and four starters on the line. That means Ganter, in his 33rd year as a Nittany Lions coach, has some furious pedaling to do to keep the offense going. "You always think, We can never replace a player like Larry," says Ganter. "But the neat part of college football is that someone rises to the occasion."
That someone maybe Michael Robinson, a 6'2", 225-pound sophomore who at one time or another last year lined up at quarterback, running back and wideout. He gained 426 yards throwing, catching and running the ball (he was the Nittany Lions' second-leading passer and rusher) and scored six TDs. In the spring, coach Joe Paterno let Robinson challenge incumbent starring quarterback Zack Mills. While Mills kept his job, Paterno—who insists he's a "one-QB guy"—knows he can't afford to keep Robinson on the sideline. "We've got to get Michael in the game, but I don't want to get him too far away from playing quarterback," says Paterno. "It wouldn't be fair to him."
Nor would it be fair to replace Mills, a 6'3", 216-pound junior who did a good job running the offense. A scrambling playmaker, Mills threw for 2,417 yards and 17 touchdowns while directing an offense that gained most of its yards on the ground. With the tailback position up in the air—junior Mike Gasparato heads an unproven group of candidates—Mills will look to throw more often to senior wideout Tony Johnson (Larry's younger brother). "More emphasis is going to be placed on the passing game this year, and I'm ready for that," says Mills. "At the end of last year we ran Larry to death, but it was hard not to when he was running for 200 yards a game."
For his part, Tony Johnson doesn't care who's under center. "We've got two quarterbacks who can do a heck of a job," he says. "We're young, but we can still make things happen."
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]