Forget, just for a minute, the lingering image at the end of Saturday's West Virginia-Penn State game: the Mountaineer Field scoreboard clock frozen at :49; the two teams nowhere in sight; a platoon of West Virginia state troopers defending the remaining goalpost from a pressing mob.
Consider, instead, the waning moments of the first quarter: The Mountaineers, leading 14-0 and having just blocked a 41-yard field goal attempt by the Nittany Lions, go to their hurry-up offense on their own 37-yard line; they run off eight straight plays without a huddle or a timeout or throwing the ball out-of-bounds, just a relentless hammering of Penn State's already-tired defense; when the sequence is over, West Virginia is on the Nittany Lions' 25, poised to increase its lead to 17-0.
"We thought their defenders would line up twice in the same place if we did that, and we'd have a chance to block them," Mountaineers coach Don Nehlen said later.
Who was he kidding? West Virginia's two-minute drill was psychological terrorism. It was the dungeon master tightening the rack on the prisoner. It was the prosecutor peppering the sweating witness with trick questions. It was...well, it was the undefeated Mountaineers reducing perennial eastern powerhouse Penn State to soup stock.
The final score, 51-30, reflected a valiant, but late, Nittany Lion rally. It was over long before that. With 13 seconds remaining in the first half and his team leading 34-8, West Virginia quarterback Major Harris handed the ball to reserve tailback Undra Johnson on a draw play. Johnson streaked 55 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown. Halftime score: 41-8.
Asked if that constituted pouring it on, Nehlen's jaw dropped. "In the first half?" he said. "You've got to be joking me. Holy criminy! We run a draw play for 50 yards, and I've gotta apologize?"
No, coach, you don't gotta. You don't gotta apologize, either, for your first TD, the one on which Harris took the snap, turned the wrong way and found no one to pitch to. So he kept the ball and romped 26 yards through lunging tacklers for the score.
Nehlen might be moved to apologize, though, for destroying the tranquillity of State College, Pa., which the November issue of Psychology Today had rated as the least stressful community in the U.S. This came as no surprise to its inhabitants, who have long referred to their Eden as Happy Valley.
But in Happy Valley this year, blood pressures shot up in September, when Rutgers upset Penn State 21-16 at home. Stomachs churned over another home loss, 24-10 to Syracuse, after which Lions coach Joe Paterno ran his hand through his hair and said, "I'm going home and shoot myself." Bloodshot eyes stared at ceilings the night of an 8-3 nail-biting defeat at the hands of Alabama two weeks ago.
Penn State traveled to Morgantown, W.Va., brooding over these untypical numbers: The Lions were losers of five of their last six nationally televised games; they had scored only one touchdown in their last 10 quarters; they had been 0 for 14 on third down against Alabama. Less than two years after going 12-0 and winning the national championship, Penn State matched up as a 13�-point underdog to West Virginia, whose last trip to a major bowl was in 1954.