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Lion of a mismatch
No. 3 Penn State throttles No. 4 Arizona 41-7 in opener
Posted: Sunday August 29, 1999 01:40 AM
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) -- LaVar Arrington is fine, and what may be even more significant for Penn State is the offense is pretty good, too.
"I was surprised, pleasantly," Arrington, the Nittany Lions' star linebacker said after No. 3 Penn State overwhelmed No. 4 Arizona 41-7 in Saturday's Pigskin Classic. "After the TD on the first drive, I said, 'Oh man, they went out and did their thing, so now we've got to go out and do our thing.'"
Arrington led a defense that shut down the Wildcats' high-powered offense, while Kevin Thompson threw for two touchdowns, Chafie Fields ran 70 yards for a score and caught a 37-yard pass for another as Penn State took a 31-0 halftime lead and coasted to victory.
The Nittany Lions held the quarterback tandem of Keith Smith and Ortege Jenkins in check, and Trung Canidate, the Pac-10's leading rusher last year, finished with just 31 yards on 10 carries.
Arrington left the game after making his seventh tackle, bothered by cramps and dehydration. In the locker room, he said he was OK and doesn't expect to miss practice next week.
Penn State rolled up 504 yards against the Wildcats, who endured their worst loss since a 56-14 defeat to Arizona State in 1996.
"This needed to happen to us because we wanted to experience a good team like this," Arizona coach Dick Tomey said. "They whipped us in every aspect of the game."
The game was never close, even though both teams came into Beaver Stadium with visions of a national title. The Lions gave every indication they will be a key player along the road to a championship game in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 4, while the Wildcats must regroup and set their sights on the Pac-10 title and a Rose Bowl berth.
The second meeting of top-5 teams in a 'preseason' game was a mismatch from the start, much to the delight of the crowd of 97,168, third-largest in Penn State history. In Joe Paterno's 50th year at Penn State -- his 34th as coach -- getting off to a big start was important.
"Any game you win by that amount, against a good team like Arizona, I'd say it's a statement game," Arrington said. "I don't think we were ever worried."
The 6-foot-5, 222-pound Thompson, whose inconsistency last season led to questions about how effective the '99 offense would be, eased those doubts with his first TD pass -- 2:56 into the game.
He found Fields over the middle, and the wide receiver turned the completion into a 37-yard touchdown. On Penn State's second play on its next possession, Fields ran 70 yards for a score to boost the lead to 14-0.
After the first of Travis Forney's two field goals made it 17-0, Thompson hooked up with backup tailback Larry Johnson on a 60-yard TD. Aaron Harris' 15-yard run late in the second quarter gave the Lions a 31-0 lead after 30 minutes.
Forney kicked a 47-yard field goal and Omar Easy scored on a 1-yard run in the third quarter. The Wildcats averted a shutout with 47 seconds left on Leo Mills' 1-yard run.
"We fooled 'em," Paterno said. "We did some things they weren't ready for. I'm a little disappointed we didn't run more consistently, but we made the big plays, which is what you have to do against a team like Arizona that comes at you."
Thompson finished 5-of-8 for 135 yards, two TDs and an interception and Fields carried three times for 110 yards and caught three passes for 76 yards. Rashard Casey, who shared time with Thompson, was 6-of-10 for 107 yards.
Fields, a 6-1, 199-pound fifth-year senior, had the time of his life.
"That was a big win on national TV, against the No. 4 team in the country," Fields said. "If that's not fun, I don't know what is. This sets the tone for the season."
Smith was 17-of-21 for 128 yards, Jenkins 8-of-14 for 104.
Penn State, which beat a top-5 team at home for the first time since 1983 (No. 5 West Virginia 41-23), looked in championship form from the opening drive. Fields ran 20 yards on a reverse and three plays later turned Thompson's pass over the middle into a 37-yard TD.
Arizona came back with Smith hitting Dennis Northcutt for 29 and 26 yards, but Mark McDonald missed a 40-yard field goal attempt.
The Nittany Lions struck quickly. Cordell Mitchell ran for seven yards, and Fields turned an inside draw into a 70-yard dash to the end zone.
In the second quarter, Penn State's Eric Sturdifen blocked a punt deep in Arizona territory and Forney's 31-yard field goal made it 17-0.
On the next play after forcing an Arizona punt, Thompson found Johnson, the son of the Lions' defensive ends and special-teams coach, on a screen pass. The backup tailback faked cornerback Leland Gales and raced 60 yards for a TD, making it 24-0 with 8:35 left in the half.
Penn State moved to a 31-0 lead with 5:13 left in the half on Harris' 15-yard run.
Smith sprained his right ankle in the fourth quarter, an injury not expected to keep him out of practice next week.
With all the talk about Arizona's co-quarterbacks, Penn State showed it, too, has a capable duo in Thompson and Casey.
"We tried to create our own two-headed monster at quarterback," Thompson said.The Lions may also be creating an offensive monster to go along with a ferocious defense.
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