Any coach with a runner who has gained almost 2,000 yards in the past two seasons naturally would be expected to build an offense around him.
Penn State's Joe Paterno, however, isn't just any coach. He could give the ball to Curt Warner, his 198-pound senior tailback, 30 times a game, but he's not planning on it. At least not Saturday when Maryland travels here to open its season.
There are several reasons Warner wasn't particularly busy in the Nittany Lions' opening 31-14 victory over visiting Temple. The main one is the passing ability of quarterback Todd Blackledge.
"We intend to throw the ball more this year," Paterno said after an unusually long workout Monday afternoon. "We've got a good quarterback and we're going to take advantage of him."
Paterno's teams haven't posted a 151-33-1 record in his 16 seasons here by recklessly throwing the ball. He's as ball-control conscious and defense-oriented as most successful coaches. But he's also willing to adjust to his material.
Warner has been mentioned as one of the top nominees for the Heisman Trophy, along with such tailbacks as Herschel Walker of Georgia and Kelvin Bryant of North Carolina and Pitt quarterback Dan Marino. But he could be an also-ran because of his roommate.
Blackledge and Warner, both speech communications majors, room together and became very close friends over the summer when they worked together on the passing game.
In Saturday's opener, Warner carried the ball only 13 times, gaining 49 yards. Afterward, there were reports that he was in tears, admitting he was frustrated by his lack of activity.
"He got a little upset," Paterno said. "He's a very emotional kid. He was eager to show what he could do, but the game just didn't dictate it."
Temple, as expected, geared its defense to stopping the run. So Blackledge went to the air early and often, connecting on six of seven passes for 123 yards and three touchdowns in the first quarter.
"We didn't plan to emphasize the pass; that's just the way Temple played us," Blackledge said. "They were very conscious of our running game. They kept the strong safety in close and brought the cornerbacks up quickly.
"We have more things we can do this season, more variety in our offense," the 6-foot-4, 222-pound junior from North Canton, Ohio, explained. "There is a lot more available to me. I'm able to react better to what the defense does. In the past, I couldn't say that."
Blackledge expects Maryland, which first-year Coach Bobby Ross says will continue to play a wide-tackle-six defense, to focus its attention on Warner and his running mates. That could mean a lot of passing again.
"The wide-tackle-six is a very deceptive type of defense," Blackledge said. "The last time we played them (two years ago), we thought we could throw and they made it really tough."
Penn State beat the Terrapins for the 18th straight time, 24-10, at Byrd Stadium, after trailing, 10-3, in the third quarter. Blackledge, in his second game as a starter, completed five of eight passes and had one intercepted.
"If you throw quick, you can cause a lot of problems for them," he said. "They have to play a lot of man-to-man coverage and we have some great receivers. We'll just try to take advantage of their alignment. That defense puts eight guys around the ball, but if we can throw wide, spread them out, it should get them thinking."
In addition to Warner, who caught four passes against Temple and turned a short screen into a 40-yard scoring play, Blackledge can call on fullback Jon Williams (two touchdown passes Saturday) and the team's top three receivers last season.
Gregg Garrity, a 5-10, 170-pound senior, led the team with 23 receptions for an 18-yard average. Tight end Mike McCloskey (6-5, 240) caught 20 for a 15.4 average, and Kenny Jackson (5-11, 174) had 19 for 23.2 yards and six touchdowns.
"We've worked very hard on our passing game in practice," Blackledge said. "We have some great receivers and we want to take advantage of them. The only way for us to have a very strong team is to be versatile."
And what about his roommate? Where does a senior who gained 1,044 yards on 171 carries last season, despite missing two games with injuries, fit in?
"Curt is a great open-field runner," Blackledge said. "All we have to do is get him the ball in the open field. If he gets one on one with anybody, he has the ability to make them miss. He can take a play designed to go eight or nine yards and turn it into a long gain or a touchdown like he did against Temple."
Paterno agrees that Warner could be a great receiver in the mold of former Penn State great Lydell Mitchell, and be one of the team's best long-range weapons.
"Warner is the best running back I've been around," said Paterno, who also has coached Mitchell, Lenny Moore, Franco Harris and John Cappelletti. "He's faster, plus he's a good receiver and an excellent blocker. He could be a great receiver, but right now he's not interested. He'd rather run the ball."