Richie Anderson is finally coming home to play.
After missing the 1989 game against Maryland because of an injury and sitting out last season as a redshirt, the Penn State tailback from Sandy Spring is healthy going into tomorrow's 1:30 p.m. game against the 2-6 Terrapins at Memorial Stadium.
Whether he's happy is another matter.
"I think at a point in the midpoint of the season, I wasn't concentrating on things," Anderson said this week. "I lost my focus for a week or two. It was frustrating for me, and I had to deal with it. I went through a difficult time."
A lost fumble early in the second half against Boston College began Anderson's plunge on the depth chart, and into Joe Paterno's doghouse. A 100-yard, one-touchdown performance two weeks ago against West Virginia helped the 6-1, 210-pound sophomore regain his confidence.
Whether Anderson starts again this week for 10th-ranked Penn State (7-2) depends largely on the health of senior Gerry Collins, who missed the 51-6 rout of the Mountaineers with a pinched nerve. With the team off last week, Collins has recovered and is expected to play against Maryland.
"I don't know, honestly," said Anderson, when asked about starting. "I would expect to, but I don't know how the coaches are going to approach it."
Anderson and Collins have shared the No. 1 tailback spot for the Nittany Lions this season. While their statistics reflect that equal billing -- Anderson has 380 yards on 83 carries, and Collins has 334 yards on 85 carries -- Anderson is clearly the more explosive of the two.
Evidence to that is in Anderson's receiving stats: 16 catches for 213 yards, including an electrifying 52-yard touchdown in the season opener against Georgia Tech. The play started out as a simple screen pass, before Anderson ran straight down the middle of the field and into the end zone.
"He can run through a block, make you miss and then outrun you," Maryland defensive coordinator Greg Williams said yesterday. "He's going to be the kind of back who runs for at least 100 yards every game, and he's going to have a big play. Sooner or later, if he's getting the ball 20 times a game, he's going to break a 65-yarder for a touchdown."
Penn State fans have been waiting for that to happen since Anderson came out of Sherwood High School, the top running back in Maryland and one of the best in the country. Joining the Nittany Lions was a difficult decision that prompted a lot of we-told-you-so when things didn't work out his first two years.
"There was unbelievable pressure to stay home," said Anderson, who played sparingly before suffering an injury before the Maryland game in 1989. "A lot of people were very spiteful, too, that I was leaving. It wasn't a very nice atmosphere for me at home. When I do go home, believe it or not, it's still not an easy feeling for me. But I don't want anything easy."
Anderson seemed to be having second thoughts earlier this season. He barely played against Temple and played only in spots against Miami and Rutgers. But Paterno had no choice but to use Anderson against West Virginia, and begrudgingly praised the player afterward.
"He's getting a little better," Paterno said of Anderson, who also broke a 41-yard kickoff return against the Mountaineers. "He's getting more confidence. He's got speed and elusiveness. He's got to make better decisions more consistently."
The comparisons to former Penn State tailbacks D. J. Dozier and Curt Warner have quieted, but the expectations remain. Anderson tries to deflect those pressures, and his numbers so far don't merit that kind of attention.
"Really, that hasn't affected me, because a lot of times, more times than not this year, I really haven't had the opportunity to get a chance like I did in the West Virginia game. I felt like if I did get the chance, good things would happen."
Maybe they will again this weekend, when Anderson comes home.
Maryland hopes they won't.
No. 10 Penn State vs. Maryland
Where: Memorial Stadium, 1:30 p.m.
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WRC (980 AM), WJEJ (1240 AM), WASA (1330 AM)
Tickets: About 1,000 are left. They can be purchased at Cole Field House in College Park beginning at 9 a.m. today.
The line: Penn State by 26
Team records: Penn State 7-2; Maryland 2-6
Series record: Penn State leads, 32-1-1