STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Underneath the F-14s that fly over the futuristic landscape of today's college football, one dinosaur still walks tall. Penn State stayed undefeated Saturday by beating Alabama, 19-17, in the kind of shoulder pad-to-the-grindstone affair that was supposed to go out with Woody Hayes.
The game-clinching touchdown drive came right out of Coach Joe Paterno's tamest dreams. Six running plays took the Nittany Lions to a third and one on the Alabama 11, at which point starting quarterback John Shaffer went out after being hit in the back.
Paterno sent in backup Matt Knizner and later said: "I would have been happy with a field goal. But I thought I'd let it all hang out."
Hanging it all out, in Nittany-ese, means running a bootleg to the right, which Knizner did expertly before he flipped a touchdown pass to tight end Brian Siverling. That put Penn State ahead, 19-10. Shortly thereafter, Alabama's Van Tiffin missed a 52-yard field goal.
The Crimson Tide did get a touchdown with 13 seconds to play when Mike Shula threw 14 yards to Thornton Chandler, but two Alabama players were offside on the ensuing onside kick, negating the fact that the Tide recovered.
For fans of precise hitting and head-butt running, this was one for the VCR. There weren't many legitimate thrills, but there were absolutely no turnovers. The Lions ran 46 times and passed for 198 yards, but even that was deceptive--only three of the 13 completions went to wide receivers.
Shula was 16 for 27 for 211 yards, 112 of which went to dynamic wide receiver Al Bell. The former Crenshaw High star, who came to Alabama from Coffeyville Junior College in Kansas, caught a 19-yarder for a touchdown early and a 46-yarder late, but Shula rarely had time to find him.
An eight-yard sack by safety Duffy Cobbs on the Penn State 28 forced Tiffin to kick the field goal that narrowed it to 12-10, and two sacks in the second quarter eliminated another Alabama drive.
And, in the third quarter, Penn State permitted Alabama, which lost for the first time after four wins, only eight offensive snaps. Massimo Manca, a native of Sardinia who came here because his uncle was a friend of Paterno's, gave the Lions their first 12 points on four field goals, including a 50-yarder into the wind.
"They (Penn State) seemed to want it a little more than we did," Alabama Coach Ray Perkins said. "They kept our defense on the field too much, especially in the third quarter. They should go a long way this year."
How far? Well, maybe to Miami or Dallas or any other New Year's Day destination that could bring Paterno his second national championship. The Lions were 6-5 last year, picked in nobody's preseason Top 20 this year and were outgained after their first four victories.
But now, their most imposing opponents--Boston College, West Virginia and Notre Dame--don't seem so scary, and all three have to come to Beaver Stadium.
Alabama survived this game with its chance at the Sugar Bowl unharmed, but linebacker Randy Rockwell and tackle Larry Roberts both suffered leg injuries on a 29-yard reverse by Michael Timpson that energized Penn State's touchdown drive.
"The reverse?" Paterno repeated. "I was going to run on first down, but I didn't have enough guts."
What elan Paterno seems to lack is supplied by his rah-rah quarterbacks. Shaffer, an animated type with a gravelly, Gerry Faust-type voice, reminds some people of Chuck Burkhart, the quarterback armed with nothing but confidence who won 22 straight games for Penn State in the late '60s.
"Hey, I got hit pretty good on the play before the touchdown," Shaffer said with a grin. "But if I'd known we were going to run the bootleg, I would have stayed in there."
Enter Knizner, who had appeared to win the job in the spring game but was demoted five days before the season.
"I was standing right next to Joe," Knizner said. "He called the 157 boot, took it back, and then called it again."
Was he surprised by the departure from Paterno's right-wing pattern?
"Uh, no," Knizner said. "But I think Alabama was. I know they were. Sure, I could have run for the first down. But Brian was right there. We had two receivers open."
Said Perkins: "It does tend to surprise you when a quarterback comes off the bench cold. We were watching for a bad snap."
Knizner faked to D.J. Dozier (27 carries, 85 yards), whom the Tide followed as if he possessed magnetic powers. The quarterback turned and saw two Nittany Lions in the end zone and only one defender, and it was dealer's choice.
"Our offense has gotten a bad rap," Paterno said. "They've struggled, but they've done whatever needed to be done."
He was not so bullish on his team's long-range chances.
"This early in the season you don't start talking about how good you are," he said. "If we don't get the fat heads and we keep the turnovers down, we have a chance to be in the swing of things. That's all."
And this game?
"A great game," Paterno said. "Our kind of game."
And he smiled.