Originally created 08/30/99

Surprisingly, Penn State had the better two-headed QB



STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Watching all that tape of Arizona's quarterback duo must have gotten Joe Paterno thinking.

Facing a team that went 12-1 last year, while splitting snaps between two quarterbacks, Paterno swiped his opponents' game plan. Kevin Thompson and Rashard Casey led an offense that rolled up 506 yards, burying Arizona in big plays on the way to a 41-7 victory in the Pigskin Classic on Saturday.

Casey, a frustrated backup all last season, was thrilled. Thompson -- the top guy last season who admitted before this game that two-quarterback systems can be awkward -- insisted he was comfortable.

"Hey, we won," he said with a wide smile. "That's all the comfort I need."

Paterno, a devout one-quarterback guy, will have to decide whether or not to stick with the new plan. He might be inclined to play both quarterbacks against the Akron Zips next Saturday and Pittsburgh Sept. 11. The test will be whether he does the same against powers Miami, Ohio State or Michigan.

"I don't know what we're going to do the rest of the year," he said after the game.

On Saturday, Casey was already making his case.

"If I keep doing what I'm doing, I don't see why not," he said.

For at least one week, it worked. Paterno sent Thompson out for the first drive. Three minutes later, he hit wideout Chafie Fields for a 37-yard touchdown.

The next drive, out came Casey. Two plays later, Penn State had another TD on a 70-yard reverse to Fields.

Two series later, Thompson found tailback Larry Johnson with a screen pass that went 60 yards for another touchdown. Seven minutes into the second quarter, the Lions led 24-0.

Casey ended up playing seven series, going 6-for-10 for 107 yards. He added 23 yards rushing. Thompson went 5-for-8 for 135 yards with two TDs in five series.

What's not to like?

"We've got plenty of weapons," said Lions middle linebacker Brandon Short. "They didn't surprise me at all. They move the ball against us. They go out there and move the ball every day in practice. Obviously, some days are better than others -- I mean, we have a pretty good defense ourselves."

The offense had to feel good about unburdening themselves of their lousy reputation: a unit that would be lucky to score a few points and hope the fabulous Penn State defense could keep the score down.

"This is great for our offense coming off last season and all the criticism we received," Fields said, "about how we needed to make plays, how we needed to do this, how the defense carried the team. I think this was a first step for us to show everybody that the guys on the offense can play the game, too."

Paterno considered going to two QBs last season. In the end, he decided that Thompson made better reads and better understood the offense.

He stuck with him despite fans' demands that he play Casey after Penn State scored 12 points in three games against Top 25 teams. Fans complained that Paterno had a guy on the bench with a strong arm and lots of speed.

After Casey threw three touchdowns in the spring game -- Thompson threw three interceptions -- the coach finally decided he deserved a shot at playing with the first team with the game on the line.

"We didn't know how we were going to do it. He said he'd go with the flow of the game," Casey said. "He did a great job of splitting time."

Paterno said he was pleased with Casey's performance. Except for one play.

With 54 seconds left in the first half and Penn State facing third-and-31 from its own 10-yard line, he dashed a few yards up the sideline and out of bounds, stopping the clock and giving Arizona more time to work with after the Penn State punt. A red-faced Paterno screamed at Casey as he came off the field.

He had plenty more to be unhappy about. Big plays aside, Penn State's offense had problems. They didn't run the ball very consistently, Thompson threw an interception and the offensive line was penalized a number of times for false starts.

"We still have a lot of work to go," Thompson said. "This is only the first game of the year. We fooled them on a couple of plays and that's what set the tone."