SI Vault
 
ONE BOWL FOR NO. 1: THE REST FOR FUN
John Underwood
December 25, 1978
Penn State Coach Joe Paterno has always advocated a playoff to determine the national championship, and this year he got it: his No. 1-ranked Nittany Lions will meet up with Bear Bryant's No. 2-ranked Alabama squad in the Sugar Bowl
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
December 25, 1978

One Bowl For No. 1: The Rest For Fun

Penn State Coach Joe Paterno has always advocated a playoff to determine the national championship, and this year he got it: his No. 1-ranked Nittany Lions will meet up with Bear Bryant's No. 2-ranked Alabama squad in the Sugar Bowl

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

This is not to say that won't happen in New Orleans. But Penn State and Alabama have certain strengths and weaknesses that might lead to a few points, and will surely have a bearing on the game. They are offered here, conveniently listed, but with no guarantees:

PENN STATE ADVANTAGES:

•Chuck Fusina. There are few if any better long passers in college football than the Penn State quarterback, and Alabama's deep secondary is smallish, slowish and still somewhat tender from injuries. When the passer is good enough and the line strong enough to protect him, Alabama can be vulnerable deep. Possible effect: well, as a practical example, Washington burned the Tide with touchdown passes of 74 and 58 yards.

•The No. 1 defense in the country against the rush (54.5 yards a game), led by Tackles Matt Millen and Bruce Clark and a cadre of swarming ends and linebackers. They seldom get moved very far. The inexperienced Nittany Lion secondary, which was a question mark at season's start, took advantage of this impenetrability by gambling with its coverages and wound up with 28 interceptions. Possible effect: a thrilling afternoon for Alabama's quarterbacks and some turnovers.

•The Alabama wishbone gets more yardage rushing (eighth in the nation) but, because of the hairiness of the triple option, is a higher-risk offense than the Penn State I. Penn State turned the ball over on fumbles and pass interceptions only 20 times all year. Alabama, though the best-drilled wishbone team in the country, gave it up 30 times. Possible effect: obvious.

•A superior kicking game is something both Paterno and Bryant covet equally but which Paterno just happens to have this time. Matt Bahr set four NCAA field-goal records, converting on 22 of 27 chances. Including PATs, Bahr scored 97 points this season, which is exactly as many as Penn State's opponents were able to score on the Nittany Lions. Possible effect: obvious.

•The lingering prejudice against Eastern football (the "Big deal, so who did they beat?" syndrome). Possible effect: psychologically damaging once Alabama gets a snootful of Millen, Clark, etc.

ALABAMA ADVANTAGES:

•It's the best team Penn State has played, period. No one else is even close. And it's the first good wishbone team State has played since—ahem—losing to Alabama in the 1975 Sugar Bowl. Possible effect: also psychological, translating into some early, and perhaps critical, Penn State errors.

•Bryant's version of the wishbone is superior to any other in passing effectiveness. With the possible exception of Mike Ford of SMU, who riddled Penn State for 289 yards, the Nittany Lions haven't faced a passer to compare with Jeff Rutledge, who broke Joe Namath's record for career touchdown passes. Off wishbone play-action (as opposed to drop-back) passing, Rutledge gives a skillful "run look" that freezes linebackers and makes a gambling secondary that much more exploitable. Possible effect: confusion in the Penn State secondary; some big plays.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10