Penn State unveils a wide-open offense to go with its formidable D
After Penn State's crushing 41-7 defeat of Arizona in the
Pigskin Classic last Saturday, there's only one question left to
ask about the Nittany Lions: Can their much-heralded defense
keep up with their offense?
Led with equal aplomb by its quarterbacks, steady senior Kevin
Thompson and exciting junior Rashard Casey, the offense gained
504 yards against the Wildcats, who entered the game ranked No.
4 in the nation. It looked as if the Nittany Lions had taken
megadoses of Florida's fun 'n' gun vitamins; Thompson and Casey
even alternated plays in one second-quarter series, the way
Gators quarterbacks did two seasons ago in a 21-6 victory over
Penn State in the Citrus Bowl. "We weren't going to play very
close to the vest," Nittany Lions offensive coordinator Fran
Ganter said after the game. "We didn't think [Arizona] was a
team we could overpower. We tricked them a little bit."
In the Wildcats, Penn State had the perfect foil. Arizona had
prepared for the white-bread offense that Nittany Lions coach
Joe Paterno used last season: two tight ends, two backs, and
calls more conservative than Gary Bauer. But Paterno had decided
to change his approach, in part because his '98 team scored a
total of only 12 points in losses to Wisconsin, Michigan and
Ohio State. "Last year I kind of tied the hands of our offensive
coaches because I wasn't comfortable with the experience we had
in a couple of spots," said Paterno after the game. "I thought
we could stay in games and win at the end. Maybe I made a
Arizona's defensive game plan accounted for the loss of its best
defensive back, senior strong safety Greg Payne, who sprained
his left ankle two weeks before the game. The Wildcats moved
inside linebacker Scooter Sprotte to strong safety, lined up
junior Antonio Pierce at linebacker and got ready to smash some
mouths. They never did. On the Nittany Lions' third snap,
fifth-year senior flanker Chafie Fields took a reverse around
left end for 20 yards. On the next play sophomore tailback Eric
McCoo shifted out of the I, lined up as a third receiver on the
right side and caught a swing pass for eight yards. Three plays
later Fields caught a short pass over the middle and turned it
into a 37-yard touchdown. That wasn't the end of the
pyrotechnics. On Penn State's next possession, Fields went into
motion, took a handoff from Casey and turned upfield for 70
yards and another touchdown. (Ganter says he filed away the play
after watching Florida use it.) Before six minutes had elapsed,
Penn State led 14-0.
The game vindicated Thompson, who had been much maligned for his
inconsistent play last season, but he refused to indulge
himself. "We're not trying to prove things to anybody," he said
afterward. "We weren't running the ball effectively enough
[today] to win against Ohio State and Michigan State. We've got
to be more consistent." On Saturday for Penn State, both
quarterbacks, three running backs and Fields had at least one
rush of 10 yards or more.
Paterno said that one game couldn't tell him much about his 34th
Nittany Lions team. But the only real complaint he made after
the game concerned the bee that had stung his right hand in the
fourth quarter. The sting he ran on Arizona was 10 times worse.
Seminoles' Kendra Returns
HAPPY TO BE BACK IN THE GAME
Dan Kendra stood by himself in a corner of the Florida State
locker room, grinning jubilantly. He had just played in his
first game since November 1997, and even though he had
contributed little to the Seminoles' 41-7 home win over
Louisiana Tech--two rushes for six yards, one reception for a
10-yard loss, and a couple of blocks--Kendra, a backup fullback,
had never felt better. Eighteen months earlier he had been
Florida State's starting quarterback, a wildly intense
perfectionist who thought about almost nothing but football. But
then he had torn the ACL in his right knee and gone into a
tailspin from which he only recently escaped.
"It used to be that everything in my life revolved around
football and my body," says Kendra, a 6'2", 255-pound senior who
came out of Bethlehem (Pa.) Catholic as the nation's top-rated
high school quarterback in 1995. "When I didn't have football
last year, I was lost. I'd mope and walk around angry. Every
hour of the day I'd think about football and how I couldn't
play. I was obsessed; it almost destroyed me."
He had surgery on the knee in April '98 and again last April,
but only three weeks before two-a-days began in August, the knee
was still sore and swollen. Kendra spent several sleepless
nights stewing over the possibility that he wouldn't be ready to
play. But on July 28, he says, he was born again while watching
a TV program called Signs from God, in which a woman spoke about
the power of salvation. After that, he says, his attitude
changed and his anger disappeared.
Although the knee began to feel better, Kendra missed half of
Florida State's preseason practices and all of its scrimmages
because of unrelated nagging injuries, such as the shoulder and
neck stingers he incurred because he tried to run over defenders
on every play. On Saturday, Kendra entered the game to a rousing
ovation with 14:06 remaining in the second quarter, and after
that he rotated with junior starter William McCray.
Given what he has been through, Kendra is content to be a role
player. "I'm not in the limelight like I once was, but I'm O.K.
with that," he says. "I've spent a lot of time, energy and pain
getting to this point, and I can honestly say I'm happy where I
am." --B.J. Schecter
Wolfpack Block Party
HEY, COACH, PUT ME IN
If not for his persistence, North Carolina State redshirt
freshman Terrence Holt might never have been on the field to
block two fourth-quarter punts that the Wolfpack returned for
touchdowns in a 23-20 upset of Texas. "One of our linebackers,
Corey Lyons, was winded," Holt said after the game. "I told
[special teams] Coach [Joe] Pate, 'Put me in.... I'm going to
get one.' I practiced blocking kicks all last year on the scout
team. I dreamed about doing it in a game, and now, to get two,
it's so unreal."
--Notre Dame (1-0) at Michigan (0-0)
Wolverines coach Lloyd Carr has mounted a soapbox to rail
against one of the evils of college football. Agents?
Scholarship limits? Lee Corso? Nope. Carr is fuming because
Notre Dame played a game last week and Michigan didn't. He has
suggested that the Big Ten propose a rule change that would
require every Division I-A team to begin its season on the same
Carr is surely aware that since 1987 the Wolverines' record in
openers is 0-5-1 against the Irish and 6-0 against other teams.
His stance has drawn support from an unlikely Michigan ally.
"I've spoken to Lloyd about it," Ohio State coach John Cooper
said Sunday after a 23-12 loss to Miami. "I don't understand why
everybody doesn't start on a certain date. Hey, Penn State
opened on Saturday. [If we hadn't played this game] they would
have had an extra two weeks of practice on us." Cooper is
referring to the fact that a team that plays a late August game
is allowed to start practicing earlier in the summer.
Carr, like most coaches, has a selective memory. He made his
coaching debut in the 1995 Pigskin Classic, in which Michigan
defeated Virginia 18-17. As far as anyone knows, his concern for
fairness didn't extend to Illinois, which opened its season a
week later by losing to the Wolverines 38-14.
But let's give Carr the benefit of the doubt and say that he's
right to worry. The Irish will spoil another Wolverines opener.
Send a question to Ivan Maisel at cnnsi.com/football/college.