Something has to give.
If past Penn State-Illinois games are any indication, Evan Royster will threaten to break the school’s all-time rushing record Saturday. If his performance so far this season is any indication, he won’t.
Royster is 128 yards away from passing Curt Warner’s 28-year-old mark of 3,398 yards. But none of the players — including Royster — have really turned their attention to the record.
Fullback Joe Suhey, lead blocker for Royster for parts of three seasons, said it’s something he’d take pride in, but he’d have to wait until after the game is over to do so.
“I don’t think that’s something that you’re necessarily thinking about during the game,” said Suhey, whose father Matt was a senior when Warner was a freshman in 1979. “It’s really exciting for him. Evan’s an unbelievable back, but during the game you have to go out there and focus on winning and play every play.”
Royster got off to a slow start this season, leading some fans to call for backup Stephfon Green to start. But a career-high 187 yards against Temple quieted those grumblings.
Like Temple, Illinois provides another chance for Royster to break out. He went for 105 yards in Champaign last season and 136 two years ago.
Aside from the Temple game, however, Royster has been quiet. He carried the ball 26 times against the Owls and averaged only 10 carries in the other four games, averaging 44 yards in those contests.
Royster, who was unavailable to the media this week, has said the record at a school steeped in tradition became somewhat of a burden in the off-season. At Big Ten media days this summer, he said it would be the greatest individual achievement of his career.
Even before camp started, Royster was talking about the record, ready to break it and get on with his season.
“It’s kind of hard not to think about it,” Royster said at media days one day before fall practice. “It’s been brought up so much. I want to get it out of the way, so I can just get on with my season. The earlier the better.”
Senior center Doug Klopacz said the key to getting Royster going was a tougher offensive line.
“If we want to start running the ball like we used to, we just gotta buckle up and go play,” Klopacz said. “That’s it.”
Klopacz added the offensive line would take a lot of pride in blocking for Royster when he breaks the record, saying the yardage is a product of “both him and the line working together.”
But just because Royster is close doesn’t mean the line is talking about their accomplishment.
“It hasn’t really come up a whole lot,” Klopacz said. “It’s a great thing to have. Evan’s a great running back. I think he knows it, we know it, and we want to do everything we can to help him get that record. But we also know we have a big game in front of us.”