"What I'd like to do," said Claiborne, "is play them a week after we play them."
When you begin to answer how good Penn State is, you cannot but begin with the defense because it is a bona fide monolith. If there is a better one in the country, says Claiborne, he doesn't want to see it. Neither does Steve Atkins, his star (119 yards a game) running back, or Tim O'Hare, his Cinderella quarterback.
Atkins, like all Maryland players under Claiborne, has been introduced to psycho-cybernetics, the mind-conditioning exercises in which you picture what you are supposed to do over and over until it translates into physical action. If Atkins pictured this, he is a world-class masochist: tackles Clark and Millen and Middle Guard Greg Jones penetrating and closing his lanes, or holding their ground so that a backwash could not be created to allow him room to free-lance; linebackers Paul Suhey and Lance Mehl filling so quickly, and ends Larry Kubin and Joe Lally pressuring so totally that the store went broke before the front door could be opened.
Atkins was held to 38 yards in 18 carries. He never made a run longer than six yards. Psycho-cybernetics or not, he never even looked like he would make a run longer than six yards. Counting Penn State quarterback sacks—there were 10, and another dozen were barely averted—the Maryland rushing game totaled a grand minus of 32 yards.
The sacks were mainly O'Hare's cross to bear. O'Hare is a fifth-year student who had never won a letter and got the job this year on sheer persistence and quick, scrambling feet. He said before the game he was looking forward to a comparison "with a Heisman Trophy candidate." He knew he wasn't one himself, but that he "loved to pass" and thought a duel with Fusina would be fun. He never knew what hit him. Kubin alone had three sacks, and the pressure was so great O'Hare seldom had the time to enjoy the view downfield. On those rare occasions in which he, or his 6'7" sophomore replacement, Mike Tice, did manage to launch a ball, a second-story man cum safety named Pete Harris would materialize in front of the Maryland receivers and pick it off. Franco's younger brother intercepted three times to give him nine for the year.
O'Hare simply never had a chance. The first time he scrambled, an opening was quickly filled by 260 pounds of Clark. The first two times he passed, he had 256 pounds of Millen suffocating his living space. It was not nice work, and you wouldn't want it if you could get it.
Closeted with his team after the game, Paterno stood on a bench and waved for attention, and then conceded, "That wasn't bad."
Greeted with hoots at this, he held up his hands and grinned again and said, "All right. O.K. You did just fine. But you've got to remember, there's still some things we have to do. Don't get cocky. We're not there yet. But if you play this way the next two games, everything will take care of itself."
As is his custom, Paterno walked home from the stadium. He was amazed, he said, that there were still people in the parking lots, munching and sipping and throwing oranges. They stopped him for autographs and clapped him on the back, and when he got home his 12-year-old son David, who had watched the game on television because of a cold, matter-of-factly reported that ABC had shown a replay of the previous night's pep rally at which Paterno made a rousing speech.
"Yeah, well, how'd I do?" Paterno asked.