SI Vault
Pat Putnam
October 25, 1971
A year ago Penn State was fast developing a loser's look, so Joe Paterno started to tinker, shifting a safety to quarterback, a quarterback to tight end and shazzam! he has another winner
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October 25, 1971

Saved By The Itch To Switch

A year ago Penn State was fast developing a loser's look, so Joe Paterno started to tinker, shifting a safety to quarterback, a quarterback to tight end and shazzam! he has another winner

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With a fine offensive line and runners like Franco Harris, a 220-pound fullback, and Lydell Mitchell, who is en route to wiping out all of Lenny Moore's records at Penn State, Paterno never had an unpeaceful thought about his ground game. In this year's first four games Mitchell averaged 6.7 yards on 85 carries and scored 10 times; Harris was 4.8 on 53 runs with four scores. And off the option that ex-safety was averaging five yards after 21 runs.

But Paterno's smartest move may have been one he made way back in spring practice of 1970, although it hardly took effect until this year. Charlie Zapiec, an excellent offensive guard, approached Paterno one day. "Coach," said Zapiec, "I know you need linebackers, and if you want I'll give it a try."

Paterno looked at his 222-pound senior, one with a solid chance for All-America honors as a guard. "Charlie," he said, "I know what this means, and why don't you take a little more time to think about it?"

Zapiec, a science major, agreed, but the next day he came back with the same offer. And he became a linebacker—for one game. Then on the plane to Colorado he suffered an appendicitis attack and was out the rest of the year.

"Coming back was hard at first," Zapiec says. "I had missed a whole year and all the guys I really knew well had graduated. I didn't feel like a part of the team. I remember when I went into one defensive huddle I had to introduce myself to the guy next to me. 'I'm Charlie Zapiec,' I said. He said, 'Hi, Charlie, nice to meet you.' At times I felt like giving it all up." At the end of spring practice Zapiec was voted defensive team captain. "It was one of the finest moments of my life," he said. "From then on I felt like I really belonged again."

Finally Paterno, thinking half a year ahead to what he thought would be Syracuse's bruising running game, took a linebacker, Jim Laslavic, and moved him to defensive end. And with that the defense, which wasn't supposed to be extraordinary, especially with a new secondary, seemed to come together. Each week, after a fine team performance, Zapiec demands that his mates get even better. And so far they have, as was especially evident against Syracuse.

Last Saturday Paterno dropped his normal 4-4-3 defense, stacked two linebackers behind his tackles and dared the big Orangemen to run anywhere else. "I figure they are going to look at our smaller linemen and they are going to come straight at us," he said. "Now we're going to find out what kind of a team we are."

On that note, Paterno arrived with his latest bag of tricks. One was the phony Wishbone. "We just want it to look like the Wishbone," Paterno said. "From it we'll still run the same plays as from the Power I. Syracuse stunts so much, we just want them to think we're in the Wishbone. We want to freeze their defense."

Freeze, did he say? In the first half, as Penn State rolled up its 24-0 lead, the Syracuse defense looked as though it was chipped from ice. On its third drive Penn State marched 14 plays to score, all on the ground, with Hufnagel getting the last three of 82 yards on a keep. A few minutes later little Alberto Vitiello kicked a 43-yard field goal to make it 10-0.

That quickly became 17-0 when Hufnagel moved Penn State 61 yards, the converted safety scoring his second touchdown on a one-yard dive. During that series Hufnagel passed once for 19 yards and ran three times for 30.

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