Penn State Found A Hard-hitting Answer To Miami

Posted: January 04, 1987

TEMPE, Ariz. — The Miami Hurricanes spent the week leading into Friday night's national championship showdown prancing around in battle fatigues.

But it was Penn State, the docile-looking guys in sports coats and ties, that did a better job of playing war games.

The Nittany Lions turned the pristine Sun Devil Stadium field into a foxhole with a fierce defense, shed their nice-guy image for 60 minutes, and simply outslugged Miami for a 14-10 win to grab the national championship at the Fiesta Bowl.

Penn State stripped the game down to its basics. And, as all-America linebacker Shane Conlan had warned beforehand, it made the Hurricanes say ''ouch" more often than not, with one jarring tackle after another.

It was a typical Penn State win. Not much for cosmetics, but that won't make the Nittany Lions' second championship trophy any less pretty in the display case.

It seems only Penn State can win with 162 total yards of offense against

college football's most high-powered team.

It seems only Penn State can win when its quarterback, John Shaffer, completes only 5 of 16 passes.

It seems only Penn State can win when its offense averages a mere 2.7 yards a play and its opponent has a Vinny Testaverde, Heisman Trophy and all, playing quarterback.

But for 21 years, defense has been the name of Joe Paterno's game, defense that forces the critical turnovers at the most opportune times.

And that's what the Nittany Lions did. The knew they wouldn't be able to prevent Testaverde (26 for 50, 285 yards) from completing his share of passes. And they knew that too many blitzes on Testaverde eventually would result in his dropping the big bomb on them.

So Penn State decided to pound on Testaverde's receivers and make them think about catching the next one, which helped lead to five dropped Hurricanes passes. And, as it once did against Dan Marino, Penn State spent much of the night dropping its superb linebackers into pass coverage.

"It looked like I had a lot of time to pass," Testaverde said. "But that was because they were dropping eight or nine guys back so that I wasn't able to find my receivers.

"We were prepared, but they were better prepared."

The result was five Penn State interceptions, two each by linebackers Conlan and Pete Giftopoulos and one by cornerback Duffy Cobbs.

The most memorable will be the ones by Conlan and Giftopoulos in the fourth quarter. Conlan snared a Testaverde pass and returned it 38 yards to the Miami 5-yard line, leading to tailback D. J. Dozier's 6-yard scoring run, which gave State the winning TD with 8:13 remaining in the game.

And when it appeared Testaverde finally would come up with the answer, Giftopoulos intercepted him on fourth and goal on the State goal line with 9 seconds to go.

"We changed a lot of zones on them, and I think they had trouble reading the zones," Paterno said. "They didn't have chances to run secondary routes. If our down people hadn't given us the rush they did without us having to send five, six people after him (Testaverde), we couldn't have played the zones as effectively as we did.

"But really, we did nothing out of the ordinary."

But in fact, State did do something out of the ordinary. It held a team that averaged 38 points a game, a team many considered nearly invincible, to 10 points. That much was out of the ordinary.

The fact that the Lions won the way they did, though, wasn't.

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