Paterno won't say, but rival expects duo to play Illinois coach Ron Zook is planning on facing Abe Koroma and Maurice Evans.

Posted: September 24, 2008

Will they or won't they?

Trying to decipher when Penn State coach Joe Paterno decides to allow Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma to play has become an exercise in tedium.

However, one person with a keen insight into the mind of a football coach was fairly confident the suspended players would return in time to face his team: Illinois coach Ron Zook.

"They're going to be back," Zook said yesterday during his Big Ten conference call. "I don't think there's any question they're going to be in there."

No. 12 Penn State (4-0) hosts No. 22 Illinois (2-1) Saturday. Its not only its Big Ten opener, but also the anticipated first test for a squad that breezed through its non-conference schedule.

Evans and Koroma, both starting defensive linemen, returned to practice Monday for the first time since Sept. 2, when police reportedly found a small amount of marijuana in their on-campus apartment. Beyond that nugget of information, Paterno would not say yesterday when the juniors, who have missed three games, would return.

"I'm not so sure what I'm going to do the rest of the week," Paterno said during his weekly teleconference.

Told that Evans, a first-team all-Big Ten end last season, and Koroma, a first-year starting tackle, were back working out with the second team, Zook chuckled. The fourth-year Illini coach said he wouldn't prepare any differently now that they are practicing again.

"I'm sure Coach Paterno will make a decision as to how much they play," Zook said. "It will be dependent upon how practice goes this week."

Paterno has given mixed answers to questions asking what protocol he would take in deciding when Evans and Koroma would play.

Last Wednesday, the players were charged with possession of a small amount of marijuana, a misdemeanor. Asked Saturday what course of action he would now take, Paterno said the matter was now in the hands of the university's Office of Judicial Affairs.

Paterno was then asked yesterday if something had happened with Judicial Affairs in the interim since the players were permitted back onto the practice field. "They could have practiced last week if I had let them," he said.

Approximately 30 minutes later, Paterno said in a separate interview - his Big Ten conference call - that he's awaiting word from Old Main.

"We have two kids that got in some trouble and I felt I'd wait a couple of weeks and I'd let them be with the team," he said. "I'm waiting for some decisions to be made by the university. So I let them come back yesterday and work out. It's just a day-by-day thing."

University spokeswoman Lisa Powers said Penn State police handed their information over to Judicial Affairs late Monday. She said the five-day span between the time of the charges and the transfer of information was not abnormal.

Injury update. Paterno said that he expects to be back on the sideline for the entire game Saturday. The 81-year-old coach rested his strained right knee in the press box for the second half of Saturday's Temple win. "I could have been down the second half Saturday if I wanted to," he said. . . . Backup center Doug Klopacz is done for the season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament last week during practice.

Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745 or jmclane@phillynews.com.

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