How intense is senior defensive end Justin Kurpeikis? Consider
that the class he chose to take over the summer was Intensive
Spanish, which required him to master enough of the language to
earn 12 credit hours in only eight weeks. It was a fitting
choice, because Kurpeikis doesn't approach anything at less than
full speed. Playing alongside LaVar Arrington, Courtney Brown and
Brandon Short, Kurpeikis finished 1999 with nine sacks and 39
solo tackles, doing so without the benefit of being, like the
now-departed trio of All-Americas, a freakish physical specimen.
"He's not as big and strong as someone like Courtney, but he's
aggressive and relentless," says coach Joe Paterno. "He's a good,
tough football player."
Since Kurpeikis is the only returning defensive player who
started more than seven games last year, Tom Bradley, who was
promoted to defensive coordinator after Jerry Sandusky retired
last year, must rely on some raw troops this year. "We're going
to have young guys who have been waiting in the wings like I was,
standing three feet from the field and not being able to play,"
says Kurpeikis. "That makes you hungry."
Offensively the Nittany Lions have more experience but still
plenty of questions. Quarterback Rashard Casey, who last year
split time with Kevin Thompson (who graduated), proved to be as
good as advertised. He completed more than 60% of his passes and
had a quarterback rating of 153.94 and was also the team's
second-leading rusher. The man he trailed, tailback Eric McCoo,
is also back, as are wideout Eddie Drummond (18.6 yards per
reception) and tight end Tony Stewart (19.0 yards per catch).
During the summer, however, Casey was charged with the aggravated
assault of an off-duty police officer in New Jersey. The senior
signal-caller has pleaded not guilty, and Paterno says that Casey
is still his starter, but the case could drag on into the fall.
Paterno is seven victories shy of surpassing Bear Bryant's
Division I-A record for career wins, but he's not at all sure
he'll reach the milestone this season. "We're not very talented,"
he says. But if Casey is steering the potent offense, Kurpeikis
vows there will be no lack of effort from the inexperienced
1999 record: 10-3 (5-3, T4 in Big Ten)
Final ranking: No. 11 AP, No. 11 coaches' poll
Bowl appearances in 34 years for Joe Paterno, the most of any
coach. His bowl record is 20-9-1.
An opposing team's coach sizes up The Nittany Lions
"They have a lot of holes on defense, but offensively they have
got experienced players at every position and should score a lot
of points....Casey throws the ball awfully well, but he runs
even better. He's very elusive, and they'll call a lot of
bootlegs and waggles for him....At running back McCoo isn't a
speed merchant but he makes tacklers miss.... Kareem McKenzie
might be the best offensive lineman in the Big Ten."
Strength: 9th of 115
Aug. 27 USC*
Sept. 2 TOLEDO
9 LOUISIANA TECH
16 at Pittsburgh
23 at Ohio State
Oct. 7 at Minnesota
28 at Indiana
Nov. 4 IOWA
11 at Michigan
18 MICHIGAN STATE
*At East Rutherford, N.J.
["TELLING NUMBER" COMPILED BY DAVID SABINO]