Joe Paterno likes to talk about seeing improvement from his best teams between the season's first and second games.

But this year?

Even the legendary coach, who has seen about everything, isn't so sure the mantra applies to this Penn State team. He knows he and his staff didn't learn very much about their Nittany Lions from their complete domination of Championship Subdivision (formerly Division 1-AA) contender Coastal Carolina in the opener.

Now, comes a real test in Oregon State.

Maybe this expected improvement will be looked for more next week -- when these Lions finally begin to understand how good or bad they really are.

"In most of the really good football teams we've had, when you get that first one under your belt, particularly when you have a lot of young players, they're a little bit nervous going in there, not quite sure of themselves," said Paterno. "They haven't quite bonded together yet. They don't know what it is to be in a huddle in a game."

But, "you may not get as big an improvement ... when in the first (game) everything went so well for us early, as opposed to a pretty tough first game.

"I don't think there's any question we should know a lot more about

ourselves (after) this week."

Usually, Paterno said he can harp on mistakes made in that first game, from turnovers to costly breakdowns.

Since there were few problems against the Chanticleers, though, he isn't sure yet what to make of his players.

He will get a much better view after Saturday's invasion from the Pac-10's Oregon State Beavers.

The Beavers produced 490 yards of total offense in their opener at Stanford, but four second-half turnovers did them in. Still, the passing game looked particularly dangerous -- which should challenge Penn State's shaky linebackers and secondary.

Paterno and his Lions at least did get a sneak preview of the Beavers. The 81-year-old head coach said he stayed up past midnight last Thursday to watch them play Stanford on TV.

"I think the quarterback is a very poised kid. He had to make some tough plays to keep them in the ballgame," Paterno said. "You know, Oregon State, (if) the kid doesn't fumble it in the end zone, they might be in an overtime game. They gave Stanford a lot, and they really beat themselves."

* * *

Staying healthy: The Lions did not suffer any significant injuries in the opener, Paterno said. The team's biggest loss -- All-America linebacker Sean Lee -- could be seen wearing a coach's headset during the Coastal Carolina game to help with the defense. He is rehabbing an injured knee this fall.

Giving some support: Paterno said having starter Daryll Clark battling top backup Pat Devlin should make each better.

"They'll be battling each other for another couple years. I think that's pretty good. I gave (Devlin) a pat on the back after the game and said, 'Hey, nice going. You had a good day. Keep concentrating.'"

Paterno told Clark, "'Now you got that one behind you. Maybe you can relax a little bit more, but stay focused and let it go at that.'

"I would hope that both those kids are mature enough and smart enough to understand the situation," Paterno said.

Title game instead: Paterno was asked if he would like to play Pac-10 teams on a more regular basis, considering the long history between the conferences.

"I haven't thought about it," Paterno said. "I have felt that the Big Ten ought to have a Big Ten championship game (first) ..."

"I'm not so sure I would want to take a team across the country every year and vice versa. ... I don't know. But I won't have a say about it. Television will tell us what we're going to do."; 771-2104


   What: Oregon State (0-1) at No. 19 Penn State (1-0)
   Where: Beaver Stadium (107,282)
   When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
   The line: Penn State by 151/2
   The coaches: Joe Paterno is 373-125-3 in 43 seasons at Penn State. Mike Riley is 47-39 in eight
seasons at Oregon State.
   The series: This is the first meeting.
   TV: WHTM-27
   Radio: WSBA-910 AM, WHVR-1280 AM