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SI FOR KIDS
Fields starts season of redemption with monster game
Posted: Saturday August 28, 1999 06:46 PM
By Stewart Mandel, CNN/SI
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State fans spent an entire summer wondering whether its offense had improved enough from '98 to make a run at the national title.
Saturday, before the tailgate grills even had time to cool down, receiver Chafie Fields put them at ease.
Fields and his cohorts on offense drew much criticism last year for failing to provide the kind of big-play ability that made them so highly coveted coming out of high school. Fields came up with three such wonders in the first six minutes of No. 3 Penn State's 41-7 drubbing of soon-to-be-much-lower-than-No. 4 Arizona in Saturday's Pigskin Classic.
On the game's first drive, Fields took a third-and-2 reverse from Kevin Thompson and went 20 yards. Four plays later he broke a tackle on a short pass to go 37 yards to the end zone. Then, on PSU's second drive, he took a surprise handoff and broke for a 70-yard touchdown nearly untouched.
He finished with 186 yards -- 110 on three rushes and 76 on three catches.
The reverse plays Fields worked so magnificently were by no means new. As a redshirt freshman in the 1997 Fiesta Bowl, Fields broke open a close game against Texas with an 84-yard reverse. Last year, the play gained him 90 yards on two carries against Temple, and it also worked for a 19-yard touchdown against Kentucky in the Outback Bowl.
Nevertheless, he caught the Wildcats completely off guard.
"I don't know why we did it, but we should keep doing it," Fields said of the reverses. "I don't know how coach Paterno planned the game or planned the offense, but I was definitely in his ear early on, trying to get some touches."
Last season, when Penn State went 9-3 but mustered a combined 12 points against Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin, freshman tailback Eric McCoo was often the Lions' only offensive threat. Saturday, he was just one piece of the puzzle, with Fields' career-best performance and the reemergence of tailback Cordell Mitchell and fullback Aaron Harris -- both injured most of last year -- as key offensive weapons.
But of Penn State's many talented skill players, Fields could have the biggest impact on the Lions' national title hopes. With their defense likely to hold most teams in check, a couple big plays like his could make the difference in a close struggle against an Ohio State or Michigan.
"Boy, he's tough in the open field," Penn State coach Joe Paterno said of the fifth-year senior. "He sees things, he changes directions, and he has that big stride of his."
"Chafie has worked hard, I was delighted for him today. He's obviously got talent. At times, he's been frustrated, but today he had a chance to show people what he can do."
Paterno, usually champion of the classic "three yards up the middle" school, made an intentional effort to shake things up.
"Last year, I had my hand in the offense a lot more," said Paterno. "With all the questions we had, I thought maybe if we could stay in the game with our defense, we could win at the end, and I probably made some mistakes. So this year, I thought maybe we should give them [the offense] a chance to show what they can do."
Fields, in particular, drew criticism in State College for spending his summer in Florida training with Penn State alum O.J. McDuffie and other NFL players, rather than with his teammates, despite a subpar junior year (25 catches for 369 yards). His entire career has been a waiting game, his occasional flashes of brilliance far too few for a former USA Today All-American.
Fields hopes to change all that his final year.
"The thing I learned in Florida, which is a small thing, is those guys told me, 'Just have fun,'" Fields said. "They said, 'When you're out there playing, don't be so tense.'"
The outgoing Fields certainly didn't seem tense afterward, answering question after question about his breakthrough performance. Only one drew a "no comment."That was to the reporter asking him how he feels to be the season's first Heisman candidate.
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