The tortoise and the hare
Penn State's offense must match yards with UK's Couch
Posted: Thursday December 31, 1998 06:25 PM
TAMPA, Florida (AP) -- What's the best way for No. 22 Penn State to slow down quarterback Tim Couch and Kentucky's high-scoring offense in Friday's Outback Bowl?
"Keep Couch on the bench," said Nittany Lions' center Eric Cole. "That's what we're going to try to do. Ball-control offense, sustained drives, 10-, 12-, 14-, 16-plays, chew up some clock. That's all we can do. Keep our defense fresh so they can be as aggressive as possible."
There's reason to believe Penn State can do that against the Wildcats' defense, which has made sure that Couch isn't the only guy rolling up the big numbers.
Florida scored 51 points against the Wildcats and Tennessee amassed 59. Even when Kentucky won, the defense couldn't be thanked: Indiana scored 27, South Carolina put up 28, LSU got 36 and Mississippi State 35. The defensive stats are ugly -- 387 yards allowed per game, 16.6 yards per catch and 24 TD passes.
"They'll score a lot of points, I'm sure," said Kentucky coach Hal Mumme. "It shouldn't be any different from all the other teams we've played against."
"We better be able to score a lot of points on 'em," said Penn State lineman Ryan Fagan.
Penn State coach Joe Paterno is not so sure. Kentucky has occasionally been good against the run, and the teams who have beaten Kentucky have been able to throw the ball, something the Lions have not been able to do consistently this year.
"I'm hoping we're going to play a little better," he said. "You never know. Kentucky is not a good matchup for us. Kentucky is a very aggressive stop-the-run football team."
Offensive coordinator Fran Ganter expects to face an eight-man front, and said the wideouts have to make some big plays.
"They'll blitz the devil out of you unless you hurt them with the passing game," Ganter said. "Even then, they want to get you into a throwing game. If they can get to the point where maybe they get a lead on you and you've gotta throw the football, they'll be real happy because they feel you can't throw the ball as well as they can."
Kevin Thompson has been lousy at times, managing only six TDs and completing only 53.5 percent of his passes with eight interceptions. And he didn't play well in the three biggest games, going 29-for-59 (49 percent) with no TDs and three interceptions.
"Our wideouts have got to be able to beat the bump and we gotta get the ball there to 'em," Ganter said.
Joe Nastasi, practicing without a cast for the first time since breaking his wrist in October, made a huge difference in practice this week, Ganter said.
Only three Penn State backs healthy for the bowl have gotten many carries this season, and only one ran for more than 300 yards: Eric McCoo (822 yards, three TDs). Cordell Mitchell, the starter at the beginning of the year, is out with a nerve problem, Chris Eberly was tossed off the team and Aaron Harris isn't the back he was before hurting his knee last season.
But Ganter is optimistic -- about Friday's game and about next season.
"We are so much better than we were three weeks ago," he said.
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