STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- For weeks, Joe Paterno has called the injury that has kept him off the sideline a problem with his right leg. On Tuesday, he suggested it might be an issue with his hip.
Whatever it is that has him hobbling around, it sure hasn't slowed down unbeaten Penn State.
A 7-0 start (3-0 Big Ten) has the Nittany Lions firmly in the national championship hunt and ranked No. 3.
"Can't we talk about the football team and not me for crying out loud?" Paterno implored Tuesday after the last of the now-weekly inquiries about his health. He walked into the Beaver Stadium media room quickly with the help of a cane but still with a pronounced limp, as he did last weekend after the win at Wisconsin.
There's little time for rest with tricky games against Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State still looming, so the 81-year-old Paterno is dealing with his sore body on the fly.
Instead of barking at players or offering encouragement by jogging all over the field at practice, he now surveys practice from a golf cart.
Instead of pacing the sidelines in his trademark khakis and black sneakers, Paterno has spent the last two contests in the press box, communicating via a headset.
"He's still the same guy. Now he's sitting back a little bit more and watching practice as a whole," said defensive end Aaron Maybin, who had 3.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles during last week's impressive 48-7 rout at Wisconsin.
"We love him," Maybin said. "He has our utmost support."
Paterno also still knows how to push buttons with his players, especially this motivated group eager to shake notions that they may be a "surprise" team in the Big Ten.
The Nittany Lions had barely wiped the sweat off their brows in the locker room following the Wisconsin win when Paterno walked in and offered the team a grim reminder of Penn State's nine-game losing streak to Michigan, which visits Beaver Stadium this weekend.
Paterno played it coy when asked Tuesday about his post-Wisconsin speech.
"Try to make sure we didn't walk out of there with our heads in the clouds," Paterno said. "I forget exactly how we did it. I said we haven't beat them in nine years or something like that. Is it nine years? I'm not even sure about that."
It's actually nine games over a 12-year span, the last Penn State victory coming in 1996.
"I like how Joe does that, especially reminding us how we haven't beat them in so long really stuck with us," said right guard Stefen Wisniewski. "I think we felt challenged by it."
Penn State will have to get by Saturday without third-string tailback Brent Carter, out for the year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee suffered while playing special teams against Wisconsin.
The Nittany Lions may also be without receiver Brett Brackett, a good blocker and slot receiver who had a concussion last week.
Paterno continued to call his own injury as "day to day." Some days, he said, he feels like he could go jogging; other days, his body is sore.
The hoopla started after he hurt his leg and hip while demonstrating an onside kick in practice the first week of the season. The injury got a little worse two weeks later; since then, he's spent part or all of three of the next four games coaching from the press box.
He's still unclear on where he'll be for the Michigan game.
Paterno is putting off extensive tests until after the season. When asked if he had already consulted with doctors, and whether his ultimate goal was to return to the sideline in 2009, Paterno offered a typically vague response.
"I don't have the slightest idea. I'm trying to figure out how we're going to beat Michigan," Paterno said. "I'm not worried where I'm going to be."
JoePa's contract runs out after this year, and he and school president Graham Spanier have tabled talks about the future until the 2008 season is over.
Both sides have insisted that a man who has held his job for 43 years doesn't need a contract to keep coaching. Paterno had also said before the season started he could coach at least a couple more years.