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Penn State coach defensive after more players' off-field woes

It was a bad weekend for Penn State (except, of course, for that 27-7 win over Iowa).

To recap:

On Friday evening, players were told that starting running back Austin Scott broke a team rule and would not dress for the next day's game against Iowa and that his future with the team was in doubt. Penn State coach Joe Paterno would not divulge what the team rule was after the game, although published reports have said that Scott broke curfew.

Later that night, freshman running back Joe Suhey was apprehended for underage drinking, issued a citation and released to a friend.

Early Sunday morning at a fraternity party on campus at the Hetzel Union Building (HUB), several players were apparently participants in a fight involving five to 10 people. Charges haven't been filed, but Penn State police are investigating, according to assistant police director Tyrone Parham.

Ryan Breen, a freshman punter, was also arrested for underage drinking around 3 a.m. Sunday. He, too, was issued a citation and released to a friend.

While relatively minor, the latest transgressions come on the heels of other incidents involving Penn State football players. In April, there were several arrests after players engaged in an off-campus brawl.

Charges were dropped against four, but safety Anthony Scirrotto and defensive tackle Chris Baker are awaiting trials on several charges, including trespassing and assault.

And right before the season started in August, tight end Andrew Quarless and cornerback Andrew Harriott were taken into custody by Penn State police for underage drinking. Both sophomores were suspended for the first two games of the season.

Problem? What problem?

Answering questions for the first time since immediately following the Iowa game, Paterno was nonplussed about all the attention the episodes have generated. The 80-year-old coach was visibly irate at times over the line of questioning.

"Hey, can we talk about Wisconsin?" Paterno said at his weekly teleconference, referring to the Lions' next opponent. "We're fine. Let me handle (the) football team. As soon as I know enough to make some decisions, I'll make them and that'll be it. You guys want to nitpick."

Paterno has made a decision on Scott's immediate future. The fifth-year senior — now listed third on the depth chart — will not play in Saturday's home game against the Badgers.

According to various reports, after spending the weekend in his hometown of Allentown, Scott is back on campus taking classes.

As for the Sunday morning HUB fight, Paterno acknowledged that members of his team may have been involved.

"I've been alerted that there might have been a couple football players involved in a fight," Paterno said. "To what extent, to what degree, what happened? I'm not quite sure yet."

Paterno said he didn't even know which freshmen had been picked up for underage drinking. He partly excused their indiscretion because they aren't expected to play this season.

"I'd like to know anybody in this room when they were in college (who) weren't sitting around a party, and some underage drinking wasn't going on," Paterno said to a roomful of reporters. "I'm not condoning it or anything like that. But you always got to be a little bit careful in evaluating what kids do in relationship to what their obligation is to their football team and themselves."

Image-unconscious

When the April fracas unfurled, Paterno garnered national headlines from his reaction to the episode and the punishment he handed down to his team.

The entire group would clean up a section of Beaver Stadium the morning following a home game, Paterno decreed, no ifs, ands or buts.

It was championed as an old-school way to handle new-school student-athletes and it, at least, helped restore a little luster to the program's once-pristine image.

After years of appearing to be above the fray of the Florida States and the Miamis, Penn State, over the last decade or so, has made dubious headlines as often as the next program.

Paterno, however, insists he isn't concerned about the team's public image.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with the image of the program," Paterno said. "We got a bunch of great kids. And 80, 85 and 90 percent of them will graduate, and 85, 90 percent of them are great people."

Still, in light of recent problems it has to be asked: What kind of good did the stadium-cleaning project really bring?

The players insist it has been a positive.

"To judge us on just a few mistakes I think would be wrong," linebacker Sean Lee said.

Joe Rage

For years, Paterno has decried the expanded season. And with Penn State scheduled to play 12 games in 12 weeks, there's more reason for the Lions' coach to harp on the additional game.

"We're the only conference that does it, the Big Ten," Paterno said.

Because of nagging injuries, Paterno called off practice Monday to give his players a rest. Senior linebacker Dan Connor admitted to having his left knee drained of fluids before and after the Iowa game.

"It's tough," Connor said. "You don't get a bye week this year."

Other injuries of note: Linebackers Navorro Bowman (ankle) and Dontey Brown (arm) are listed as possible for Wisconsin, and defensive tackle Ollie Ogbu is listed as probable for Saturday.