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Crushing Couch

Kentucky QB No. 1 concern for Penn State defense

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Posted: Tuesday December 29, 1998 06:23 PM

  Couch hasn't thrown for fewer than 300 yards and a TD in any game this season AP

TAMPA, Florida (AP) -- When you've sent as many kids onto the NFL as Joe Paterno has, it's a little hard to be wowed by any college player.

But this fall, Kentucky quarterback Tim Couch threw 553 passes and completed an NCAA-record 400 of them for 4,275 yards and 36 touchdowns. In three seasons, he's almost single-handedly turned around Kentucky. He is expected to be the first pick in the NFL draft if he goes for the money this year.

So as Penn State's coach installs his game plan for the Outback Bowl on Friday against the Wildcats, the big QB is, of course, topic No. 1.

"He's strong. He does a great job of not getting tackled, but he's always looking downfield," Paterno said Tuesday morning. "When he breaks a tackle, when he's about to get sacked, he has a great ability of finding the open guy. He does a great job of getting rid of that football when he gets in trouble."

Earlier this month, Paterno called him "as good as anybody we've ever played."

That includes the likes of Ty Detmer, Doug Flutie and Vinny Testaverde -- future NFL quarterbacks all.

Detmer burned the Nittany Lions for 576 yards in Brigham Young's 1989 Holiday Bowl defeat. Flutie threw for 520 yards in Boston College's regular season win. Penn State shackled Miami's Testaverde, intercepting him five times, including one in the closing minutes of the Fiesta Bowl to secure the national title in 1987.

Couch hasn't thrown for fewer than 300 yards and a TD in any game this season, but still No. 22 Penn State hopes to force him into more of a Testaverde-like performance this New Year's Day.

"Definitely, we need to put pressure on him. We've been watching film and nobody has been able to get in his face," said Lions cornerback Bhawoh Jue. "He's been sitting back there and just picking people apart."

Despite all those passing plays, Kentucky has given up only 27 sacks all year.

If any team could change that, Penn State is the one. The front seven racked up a Big Ten-best 47 sacks this season, a school record. Defensive ends Courtney Brown and Brad Scioli have stumped coaches all season, and defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky loosened his read-and-react scheme a bit, unleashing LaVar Arrington and Brandon Short into the backfield more often.

"I can assure you, they are a lot faster than anyone gives them credit for," Kentucky coach Hal Mumme said. "Coach Paterno puts them in these white uniforms and black shoes, which makes them look slower than they really are."

Kentucky's offensive line has taken a couple of late-season blows; left tackle Jonas Liening broke his leg and center Jason Watts was suspended following a car wreck that killed two people. Matt Brown, a redshirt freshman, has stepped in to protect Couch's backside, and center Aaron Daniel started only the Tennessee game. They join veteran 300-pounders Jeremy Streck and Kris Comstock.

If the line can hold Penn State's front seven at bay long enough for Couch to get into rhythm, it will be hard to stop Craig Yeast and the Wildcat receivers from rolling up the yardage.

"He's just unbelievable on film," said reserve linebacker Justin Kurpeikis. "I was sitting and watching film with Courtney and Scioli and we were like, 'Oh, you're kidding me!' You don't see him getting sacked very often, and when guys get to him, he's a big kid and it's hard to bring him down."

The only comparison to Mumme-ball in the ground-happy Big Ten is Purdue's "basketball on grass," which the Lions handled nicely in this year's 31-13 win. Drew Brees put up his usual numbers: 39-for-58 for 361 yards. But a closer look shows the real story: one TD pass, no pass over 19 yards, an interception, six sacks and another half-dozen hurries.

"We made him feel uncomfortable," Jue said about Brees, who broke all kinds of Big Ten records this season. "He didn't want to be back there throwing the ball because he was looking over his back."

It's hard to imagine Brees -- or Couch -- not wanting to throw the ball. But Jue has a point: Getting to Couch will be the key for Penn State.

"I think we can get to 'em," Scioli said. "I don't care how good you are, if you can't throw the ball, if you're getting hit on every play ... That's what I'm looking to do. Because he's Tim Couch, that's more incentive."

 
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