Originally created 09/16/99

Penn State's offense could be up in the air



STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State needed long-ball passing to fool Arizona, whack Akron and sneak by Pittsburgh.

Much as coach Joe Paterno would love to return to consistent, Big Ten-style, smashmouth football, the Nittany Lions again may end up using every last reverse, streak and screen in their arsenal on Saturday.

While this is a team that usually starts with the tailback, No. 3 Penn State's rushing attack so far has been inconsistent, at best.

And next up is No. 8 Miami (2-0). The Hurricanes held Ohio State to 116 yards and have three linebackers certain to crowd the line of scrimmage. Their defensive backs, on the other hand, are largely untested, either by Ohio State's new quarterbacks or Division I-AA Florida A&M.

"We may have to throw the ball, we don't know," quarterback Kevin Thompson said. "It's just a matter of how Miami plays us. If they put eight guys in the box, who knows? Maybe we can break one loose."

Penn State (3-0) has done that so far, but Paterno isn't one to rely on the big play. He was especially concerned after the Lions scraped together just 65 yards in a 20-17 victory over Pittsburgh.

"Obviously, we'll have to run the ball better than that at times during the year," Paterno said. "I said prior to the Pitt game that was one of my concerns, that we had really fooled people with big plays and that one of these days we weren't going to be able to fool people. We were going to have to go in there and earn it."

Penn State has been known to throw from time to time -- despite its reputation as strictly a running team.

In 1982, the Lions became the first team to win a national title by piling up more passing yards than rushing yards. In 1994, Kerry Collins led Penn State to a 12-0 season by throwing for a school-record 2,679 yards.

But both teams had great backs, too: In 1982, Curt Warner rushed for 5.3 yards every time he carried. Ki-Jana Carter ran for 1,539 yards in 1994 at 7.8 a pop.

This year, sophomore Eric McCoo has been Paterno's go-to tailback more often than not, but he has only 103 yards on 28 carries. Aaron Harris, Paterno's most experienced back, has 91 yards on 17 carries.

Paterno does not blame his experienced offensive line, only his new offensive schemes.

"We're in a lot of different sets, we're playing a lot of different people, we've tried to establish a little better passing game, a little bit more wide-open football game," Paterno said. "We have not played with two tight ends. We haven't done things we've done in other years to make sure we can run the football.

"You never get anything for nothing," he added. "If you want to spread out a little bit, then you don't run the ball quite as well."

That's especially true when teams crowd eight or nine players in the box for much of the game, as Pittsburgh did.

"It's tough to have a successful running day when they do that," Mike Cerimele said. "But we're going to have to work to get better because that's what we're going to see the rest of the year."