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Just when Penn State fans were thinking that the Nittany Lions might go to the Rose Bowl in their first season in the Big Ten, Penn State coach Joe Paterno started acting like an old Big Ten coach and dashed their hopes.
Last Saturday, with 1:39 left in the third quarter of the Lions' first-ever meeting with Michigan, Penn State trailed 14-10 but had a first down on the Wolverine six-inch line. That's when Paterno seemed to become inhabited by the spirits of those unimaginative coaches who have preceded him in his team's new conference. On the first two downs Lion quarterback Kerry Collins was stopped cold on sneaks. Then tailback Ki-Jana Carter was smashed back on a dive over the middle. On fourth down Carter plied the middle again but was stopped short of the goal by Michigan inside linebacker Jarrett Irons and guard Tony Henderson. "We should not have run that play in the first place," said Penn State offensive tackle Marco Rivera. "It didn't work the first three times. Why run it again?"
Although the Lions got a field goal on their next possession, the game was effectively over. The Wolverines scored another touchdown after a 47-yard run by tailback Tyrone Wheatley, who finished the game with 192 yards on 32 carries, to make the final score 21-13.
IT'S GETTING OFFENSIVE
Nevada 48, Utah State 44. Cal 42, Oregon 41. North Carolina 59, Maryland 42. Baylor 42, Fresno State 39. Minnesota 59, Purdue 56. If it seems that teams are putting more points on the board this season, it's because they are. Through last Saturday an average of 49.1 points per game were being scored in Division I-A, 4.3 more than the record, set in 1990.
Offensive numbers have been creeping up since 1967, when the average point total was 36.8. The biggest reason for the increase, according to many coaches, is that the rule makers have responded to the public's demand for more excitement by permitting offensive linemen to use their hands more in blocking. The effect has been to encourage teams to pass.
Offenses have been further helped this season by the moving of the hash marks 6'8" closer to the center of the field, which makes it more difficult for defenses to use the near sideline as a sort of 12th man. Says Penn State's Paterno, "There are people who use options on the short side that now have a couple of more yards to get the ball turned upfield. The passing game is also enhanced because the quarterback no longer has to throw the ball as far on the out route."
It's not just the rules, though; it's also the personnel. Just about every team now has at least one player who's capable of scoring every time he touches the ball. Says Washington State coach Mike Price, whose team upset Cal 34-7 last Saturday by amassing a whopping 544 yards in total offense, "Our offense has one player running a pattern for a touchdown on every passing play. Every play!"