OL preparing for big test -- literally

Miles Dieffenbach doesn't just have to worry about written tests in math and English -- he studies feverishly for his weekly Thursday football exam, too.

There's no Scantron, no multiple-choice and no true-false softballs inside the Lasch Football Building. Instead, Penn State assistant Mac McWhorter distributes in-depth, open-ended exams to the offensive linemen.

The coach diagrams the opponent's favorite blitzes and depth chart, and the linemen must choose plays that best counter the opposition's look.

"It's not so much a grade, but moreso letting us know where we messed up," Dieffenbach said. "They don't want us to use our notes, and we try to fill it out as best we can and then we give it to the coaches and, the next day, they give it back."

McWhorter's weekly test is as unavoidable as contact during blocking drills. Everyone's required to sit down and take the exam -- starters, backups, even injured players.

There are no exceptions because Bill O'Brien has emphasized maintaining a rotation and fresh line. Backups Angelo Mangiro and Ty Howle will find themselves in at guard at some point, while Eric Shrive and Adam Gress will rotate in at tackle.

"Anytime you can add depth, that's good," O'Brien said. "I think these guys are playing well together."

Penn State's rushing average has slowy risen since Week 2 -- from 2.9 yards a carry to 3.9 to 4.1. And players believe the offensive line's improvement is a big reason for that.

Zach Zwinak initially shrugged Saturday when asked how this team has improved its running offense, especially when it started four different tailbacks in four weeks. Zwinak thought for another moment before settling on the answer.

"The offensive line," he said. "They've been playing really well."

Dieffenbach said he's improved his exam results every week, but he knows the real test -- the tougher test -- comes Saturday. Illinois is the best defensive line they've seen yet, and O'Brien said the unit reminded him a lot of Penn State's.

Dieffenbach agreed.

"I would definitely say this is the best front four," he said. "They're the biggest, strongest, fastest."

McWhorter will have another exam waiting for Dieffenbach and Co. on Thursday. Reporters and fans may not know the test results, but Saturday will likely be a good indicator.

"It's a pretty in-depth kind of exam," Dieffenbach added.