Jerome Hayes screams in pain as he is carried off the field during the fourth quarter Saturday. Hayes’ knee injury -- possibly a season-ender --
Jerome Hayes screams in pain as he is carried off the field during the fourth quarter Saturday. Hayes' knee injury -- possibly a season-ender -- deals another blow to the Nittany Lions' defensive line.
(Daily Record/Sunday News - Jason Plotkin)

The biggest question heading into Saturday's football game at heavy underdog Syracuse has nothing to do with who should win or by how much.

Most are calling it a Penn State landslide in the Carrier Dome.

The question, then?

Who will coach Joe Paterno play on his defensive line, especially when it comes to rotating fresh bodies?

That is more uncertain.

Start with Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma, about as formidable of an outside-inside defensive line punch as there is in the Big Ten. Both did not play, nor did they even dress in uniform, against Oregon State after police seized marijuana from an on-campus apartment registered to both players last week.

Neither is listed on Penn State's depth chart this week.

Penn State’s Andrew Quarless sits on the bench during Saturday’s 45-14 home win against Oregon State. Quarless and defensive players Maurice
Penn State's Andrew Quarless sits on the bench during Saturday's 45-14 home win against Oregon State. Quarless and defensive players Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma were suspended by coach Joe Paterno after campus police seized marijuana from an on-campus apartment registered to the three. No charges have been filed.
(Daily Record/Sunday News - Jason Plotkin)

When asked on Tuesday about their possible return, Paterno was vague and noncommittal.

"Well, there are circumstances involved with this, which I can't really get into and I don't want to get into. ... So I'm just trying to wait until I get this thing straightened out, and then we'll see what happens. As far as whether the kids are going to play or not, I'm going to play it day-by-day for a while."

The Lions' defensive problems were made worse the past few weeks with the season-ending injuries to superb rush-end Jerome Hayes and backup tackle Devon Still.

And during the preseason Paterno jettisoned starting tackles Chris Baker and Phil Taylor for off-field problems.

So for now, the Lions' lineup looks like this:

After standout tackles Jared Odrick and Ollie Ogbu, backups must be pulled from true freshman Jack Crawford, redshirt freshman Chima Okoli and redshirt sophomore Tom McEowen, who has seen little time in his fight back from injuries.

The outside appears to lack critical depth, too.

Redshirt sophomore Aaron Maybin has been pushed up to a starter and will be backed up by imposing but unproven redshirt freshman Eric Latimore (6-foot-6, 262 pounds).

(DAILY RECORD/SUNDAY NEWS - FILE)
The right side features starter Josh Gaines, followed by redshirt freshman Kevion Latham.

What was once considered the deepest and possibly best defensive line in the Big Ten will now rely on lots of inexperienced and untested parts.

To offset Evans' possible absence, the Lions could move Crawford, a natural defensive end, from tackle.

"We have a couple of pretty good kids who can play. So I'm not in a hurry to make a move, but we may," Paterno said. "I'm being a little evasive because I'm not sure what we're going to do."

Crawford, from England, is an intriguing prospect -- and a physical specimen at 6-5 and 250 pounds.

"I think Crawford's got a ways to go, obviously," Paterno said. "He's only played football for two years.

"He's got a lot of natural ability. And he played much better this week than he did the first game, and I think he'll continue to get better for a while. Before you know it, he's going to be one heck of a player."

For now, though, Paterno said there are no easy or definite answers.

"I have a great feeling about the defensive staff that they'll get the most out of these kids if we stop getting injuries.

"My gut feeling is that these guys will get better and better," Paterno said. "I think, 'Thank goodness I've got a bunch of coaches who can help them be good.'"

* * *

They'll be fine: Quarterback Daryll Clark, who took a helmet to his throwing arm during Saturday's game, and receiver Derrick Williams, who apparently suffered an upper torso injury, will be ready to play at Syracuse, Paterno said.

"They're both fine," Paterno said. "(Williams) had some kind of a strain in one of his stomach muscles. But he was out there (on Monday in practice) running around a little.

"I didn't even know Clark had any problems."
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PENN STATE KICKOFF

What: No. 17 Penn State (2-0) at Syracuse (0-2)

Where: Carrier Dome (49,262)

When: 3:30 p.m Saturday.

The line: Penn State by 27

The coaches: Joe Paterno is 374-125-3 in 43 seasons at Penn State. Greg Robinson is 7-30 in four seasons at Syracuse.

The series: Penn State leads, 40-23-5, but this is the first meeting since 1990. 

TV: WHTM-27

Radio: WSBA-910 AM, WHVR-1280 AM