Paterno sets up his radar, but knows catching Miami's speeders won't be easy

Phil Jackman

October 07, 1992|By Phil Jackman

Word out of Penn State this week is that folks on campus -- and just about everyone in the small towns between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh -- are going bonkers over the big football game at the Happy Valley monolith (Beaver Stadium) Saturday. But you couldn't tell it by Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno.

"To tell you the truth, I don't know anything about the frenzy," says Paterno. "I'm bleary-eyed watching tapes of Miami's last two games. I haven't been downtown, out in public or talked to anyone. I've been too tied up in details to have a sense of anything going on yet."

The Hurricanes have such an effect on people, frenzy and worry, even when they're all the way down in second place in the polls.

Weekly, the Penn State coach and his staff formulate plans for an upcoming game Sunday night, all day Monday and well into Tuesday when, in the late afternoon, the information is fed to the players on the practice field.

One thing Paterno noticed about Miami in videotapes of the Hurricanes' narrow victories over Arizona and Florida State is even when a slow-motion replay is involved, the 'Canes appear as if they're on fast forward.

Speed and explosiveness, these are the calling cards of Miami. "And because it has been so successful in establishing itself as the No. 1 program [four national championships, two seconds and a third in the last nine seasons], everybody naturally begins to set Miami up as a model," Paterno said. "You come away from watching them or playing them thinking you have to get more speed."

The last two weeks, while thanking their lucky stars that the opposition was wide right with potential winning and tying field goals at the end, the Hurricanes have been almost exclusively a passing team. It would seem then that seventh-ranked Penn State's task is easily deciphered: Put a rush on quarterback Gino Torretta and do a reasonably good job of covering his receivers.

Paterno begs to differ: "A lot of people jumped to the conclusion that Miami doesn't have a strong running attack when it didn't run the ball well in its last two games. Make no mistake, it's a good all-around team. It's just that Arizona and Florida State [defenders] come off the offensive blocks so quickly. There again, speed and athletic ability."

Penn State's first order of business is always to stop the other guy and, last year, it did a pretty good job down in the Orange Bowl, losing, 26-20. "But so much went into an effort like that," Paterno said.

"Because of their explosiveness, you can only do something for so long, then you have to give them something different. For instance, we're not going to challenge them all day because we can't run with them. Then again, we're not going to hang back all the time either. Sometimes you kind of wish football games were 40 minutes long, not 60 minutes."

While allowing that he has "more and quicker kids than we've ever had," Paterno's wish now is that some of his players "were a little bigger so that they could cover their bigger receivers."

Paterno said he wishes Beaver Stadium had crowd noise equal to that of the Orange Bowl.

"We get noisy support at home [where the seating capacity is about 95,000]," said All-America receiver and kick returner O. J. McDuffie, "but I recall an instant last year down there when a huge plane flew fairly low over the stadium and you couldn't even hear it.

"Noise had nothing to do with us getting beat, though," McDuffie said. "After we left, we thought we should have won. A lot of us have done some thinking about what might have been." McDuffie said last year the Hurricanes "surprised us, not talking as much trash as we expected." He predicts it will be the same this time around -- football not folderol. As for Miami's speed, McDuffie said, "I think we'll grind them down a little bit so that speed won't be that much of a factor."

Paterno said, "With their athletes, they will play their game. The noise won't bother them, and it won't bother us. Both of us are too good to be taken out of a game because of things like that. If we get beat, it will be because they are precise, have the best receivers around and execute better than we do.

"Hey, this is a great football game and it's on national TV [noon, channels 13, 6]," said Paterno, rapidly getting caught up in the frenzy.

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