For breakfast last Saturday, Penn State's Joe Paterno fed his unbeaten Nittany Lions steak and eggs plus a horror movie, something called "Upset 1970: Syracuse 24, Penn State 7." It was a good way to start the day—a tasty appetizer mixed with a bitter reminder of last year's game. Then for lunch Paterno offered his boys Syracuse live, and when the meal was over toward late afternoon there was nothing left of the Orangemen except a few bones scattered around the floor of old Archbold Stadium. Scoring 24 points in the first half, Penn State won with surprising ease 31-0 to secure its position as king of the East and stay in contention for national honors.
Perhaps the major difference at Penn State this season is that Joe Paterno finally has everyone playing in the proper position. Since that loss to Syracuse a year ago, Paterno, in separate moments of inspiration, has converted his second-string safety into his starting quarterback and his second-string quarterback into his No. 1 tight end. He also has moved one of his top linebackers to defensive end. Which started the rumor that Dr. John W. Oswald, the university president, had been bypassing all practices in fear that he might wind up as Paterno's center. "I don't mind playing," he had allegedly said, "but do you think Mike Botts could run the school?"
No matter. With Botts still at center and all the others playing their new roles even better than Paterno has a right to expect, Penn State has put down five straight opponents by an average score of 38-6.
The ex-safety at the helm is John Hufnagel, a 187-pound junior accounting major who runs the option to perfection and who is slowly overcoming a bad rap as a mediocre passer. In Penn State's first four games he completed 30 of 55 for three scores and 412 yards, which is several rungs above mediocrity.
"If Notre Dame had Hufnagel," said Syracuse Coach Ben Schwartzwalder, "they'd be a great team. If we had him, we'd be a good one."
But Penn State has him, and has ever since last year's loss to Syracuse. He started the final five games of the 1970 season and won them all.
"The story that he couldn't pass started after the Army game, his first for us at quarterback," said Jim Tarman, assistant to the athletic director. "It was tough for him. He knew very few of the pass plays. So he just stuck to the running game. Because of that everyone decided he couldn't throw."
But Hufnagel's success left Paterno with a problem. As his second-string quarterback he had Steve Joachim, a 6'3½" sophomore with a strong throwing arm. What then would he do with Bob Parsons, his 6'4½" 236-pound ex-quarterback who is the team punter and a fine athlete? Finally he approached Parsons midway through last spring's practice. "Uh, Bob," said Paterno, "you know that Hufnagel is our quarterback?" Parsons nodded. "And that Joachim gives us a fine backup quarterback?" Parsons nodded. "Uh, Bob, did you ever consider playing tight end?"
Parsons grinned. "Coach, I thought you'd never ask."
"And what a difference he's made in our offense," Paterno says happily. "With him we are a great third-down team. The linebackers can't make a move until he does. They just stand around waiting to see what he's going to do."
With a fine offensive line and runners like Franco Harris, a 220-pound fullback, and Lydell Mitchell, who is en route to wiping out all of Lenny Moore's records at Penn State, Paterno never had an unpeaceful thought about his ground game. In this year's first four games Mitchell averaged 6.7 yards on 85 carries and scored 10 times; Harris was 4.8 on 53 runs with four scores. And off the option that ex-safety was averaging five yards after 21 runs.
But Paterno's smartest move may have been one he made way back in spring practice of 1970, although it hardly took effect until this year. Charlie Zapiec, an excellent offensive guard, approached Paterno one day. "Coach," said Zapiec, "I know you need linebackers, and if you want I'll give it a try."
Paterno looked at his 222-pound senior, one with a solid chance for All-America honors as a guard. "Charlie," he said, "I know what this means, and why don't you take a little more time to think about it?"
Zapiec, a science major, agreed, but the next day he came back with the same offer. And he became a linebacker—for one game. Then on the plane to Colorado he suffered an appendicitis attack and was out the rest of the year.
"Coming back was hard at first," Zapiec says. "I had missed a whole year and all the guys I really knew well had graduated. I didn't feel like a part of the team. I remember when I went into one defensive huddle I had to introduce myself to the guy next to me. 'I'm Charlie Zapiec,' I said. He said, 'Hi, Charlie, nice to meet you.' At times I felt like giving it all up." At the end of spring practice Zapiec was voted defensive team captain. "It was one of the finest moments of my life," he said. "From then on I felt like I really belonged again."
Finally Paterno, thinking half a year ahead to what he thought would be Syracuse's bruising running game, took a linebacker, Jim Laslavic, and moved him to defensive end. And with that the defense, which wasn't supposed to be extraordinary, especially with a new secondary, seemed to come together. Each week, after a fine team performance, Zapiec demands that his mates get even better. And so far they have, as was especially evident against Syracuse.
Last Saturday Paterno dropped his normal 4-4-3 defense, stacked two linebackers behind his tackles and dared the big Orangemen to run anywhere else. "I figure they are going to look at our smaller linemen and they are going to come straight at us," he said. "Now we're going to find out what kind of a team we are."
On that note, Paterno arrived with his latest bag of tricks. One was the phony Wishbone. "We just want it to look like the Wishbone," Paterno said. "From it we'll still run the same plays as from the Power I. Syracuse stunts so much, we just want them to think we're in the Wishbone. We want to freeze their defense."
Freeze, did he say? In the first half, as Penn State rolled up its 24-0 lead, the Syracuse defense looked as though it was chipped from ice. On its third drive Penn State marched 14 plays to score, all on the ground, with Hufnagel getting the last three of 82 yards on a keep. A few minutes later little Alberto Vitiello kicked a 43-yard field goal to make it 10-0.
That quickly became 17-0 when Hufnagel moved Penn State 61 yards, the converted safety scoring his second touchdown on a one-yard dive. During that series Hufnagel passed once for 19 yards and ran three times for 30.
Then the defense got into the act. End Bruce Bannon, a 6'3½" 211-pound sprinter, sliced in to deflect a Syracuse punt and then threw a key block to allow Linebacker Gary Gray to carry the loose ball 21 yards to score. Between them, Bannon and Gray make up one of the world's more intelligent scoring combinations. Bannon, a geological science major, carries a 3.8 average. Gray, majoring in electrical engineering, carries a 3.3. Paterno would have made a split end out of Einstein.
Mostly coasting the second half, Penn State fattened the final margin to 31-0 with a late fourth-quarter touchdown on a one-yard run by third-string Fullback Ken Andrews.
When it was over, a friend began talking to Paterno about the Orange Bowl.
"Go away," said Paterno.
But the friend persisted. "You know very well you've got an easy time between now and your last game with Tennessee. So that makes you unbeaten, and Tennessee...."
"Hold it," said Paterno. "Stop right there." He turned to a group of writers nearby and said, "O.K., if you want to quote him, go ahead. Just make sure you spell this guy's name right. Don't spell it P-A-T-E-R-N-O."
He shook his head. "Boy, some easy time."