Miami fan Arrington set to tackle Hurricanes

Penn State LB savors Orange Bowl showdown

College football

September 18, 1999|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

MIAMI -- Penn State junior linebacker LaVar Arrington gets his chance today to punish offensive players on the same Orange Bowl turf where Ray Lewis, now a Pro Bowler with the Ravens, became his idol by doing the same thing.

Arrington will start showing his moves at 3: 30 p.m., when the No. 3 Nittany Lions (3-0) face the No. 8 Miami Hurricanes (2-0).

When Lewis was a senior at Miami, Arrington, then a Pittsburgh-area high school player, met the man whose reckless style he studied and imitated -- and still does.

"I shook Ray's hand. He told me to come on down there and keep it going," Arrington said of a brief meeting that meant everything to him at a time when he seemed almost certain to be a Hurricane.

But then a couple of incidents re-routed Arrington from wearing an orange jersey for today's game: the murder of Hurricanes player Marlon Barnes in 1996 and then-coach Dennis Erickson's departure for the Seattle Seahawks.

So even though Miami, the college he cheered for growing up and the school his favorite player was attending, sent Arrington his first recruitment letters, he settled on Penn State -- "the better fit for me."

What attracted Arrington to Miami in the first place was what he called "a style of their own" -- those trash-talking, end zone-dancing, brawl-starting, unsportsmanlike conduct-getting Hurricanes who produced four national titles in nine years before being cut down a few notches by NCAA sanctions.

This year's version is a more subdued team, as mandated by coach Butch Davis, who vowed to clean up the school's image. Less the histrionics, this group is inching closer to those former Hurricanes in production.

Miami already has an upset over a Big Ten opponent, beating Ohio State in the Kickoff Classic, 23-12. Coming off a bye week after beating Florida A&M, 57-3, the Hurricanes will try to continue at least one tradition from those old teams -- invincibility at home.

The Hurricanes won an NCAA-record 56 straight home games before losing to Washington in 1994.

Penn State wants no part of another streak, of course.

"It is very important that we go down there and come out with a win," said Penn State junior fullback Mike Cerimele. "Miami is a great team."

Cerimele will be part of a Nittany Lions backfield rotation that includes sophomore Eric McCoo and senior Aaron Harris. The quarterbacks, seniors Kevin Thompson and Rashard Casey, also will take turns again.

This strategy is part of Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno's pledge to open up his offense.

Penn State is passing more and working out of multiple wide-receiver sets, which Paterno feels may have caused his running game to struggle in last week's 20-17 win over unranked Pittsburgh. Against the Panthers, McCoo and Harris ran for a combined 57 yards on 23 carries.

Paterno insisted that his team's being a 52-yard field goal from going into overtime at home against the lowly Panthers was a good thing. He figured his team learned how to win a close game, something it did not have to worry about in its first two games, a 41-7 win over then-No. 19 Arizona and a 70-24 romp over Akron.

"We are playing the game a little differently," Paterno said. "We have spread out a little bit more, and we have different combinations of people and are trying to do a lot of different things.

"Prior to the Pitt game, that was a concern of mine, that we had really fooled a lot of people with the big plays. One of these days, we were not going to be able to fool people."

Miami is more stable in using its personnel.

In his third start, sophomore quarterback Kenny Kelly will responsible for getting the ball to big-play receiver Santana Moss. Moss, a junior, had 115 yards receiving, a highlight-reel touchdown, in the victory over Ohio State.

"That's a quarterback's dream -- to have three or four receivers that you can just put the ball up and they'll go and get it," Kelly said.

Junior running back James Jackson, who rushed for 87 yards against the Buckeyes and 103 against the Rattlers, will have the task of avoiding Arrington and the rest of the Penn State linebackers.

If any group can match the speed of Miami's skill players, it is Penn State's linebackers. But to do so, Arrington and seniors Brandon Short and Mac Morrison will have to give Ray Lewis-like performances to stop the Hurricanes' speedy talent.

The last time the teams played, in 1992, Miami won at Penn State, 17-14.

"Hopefully, we can compensate with the same amount of speed," Arrington said. "You know how those Florida boys run. We don't have good weather all year round like they do. I love being in dogfights. You know Miami is going to give us one."

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