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College Football Spotlight

Paterno Is Now Joe Average

September 28, 2003|Elliott Teaford | Times Staff Writer

Joe Paterno blows a fuse.

Penn State squanders a game.

These are strange days in not-so-Happy Valley, where there are whispers that "JoePa" has lost his edge and the Nittany Lions might be better off with a younger coach.

Paterno, 76, spent his 600th game on a Penn State sideline Saturday, his 444th as head coach, and the results were pretty much as they have been during the Lions' long, slow slide into mediocrity.

The Lions had a chance to score the go-ahead touchdown at the end of the half, but an incomplete pass was ruled an interception. They had a chance to score the winning touchdown at the end of the game, but a fourth-down pass went halfway to Latrobe.

Final score: Minnesota 20, Penn State 14.

Standings: Minnesota 5-0, 1-0 in conference play, Penn State 2-3, 0-1.

No wonder Paterno went ballistic near halftime, charging onto the field after the officials to argue the interception should have been ruled an incomplete pass. TV replays indicated Paterno had a right to be miffed, but this was the second time in two seasons he has bolted from the sidelines to yell at the zebras.

Last season, after a loss against Iowa, he grabbed an official by the shoulder, twirling him around to protest a call. After another call went against Penn State in an overtime loss against Michigan, Paterno called for a review of Big Ten officiating.

Saturday, he toned down his postgame remarks.

"I couldn't tell if it hit the ground or not," he said when asked about confronting the official after it was ruled that Terrance Campbell had intercepted the pass. "Everyone on our sideline thought it hit the ground and was not an interception. I said [to the official], 'It bounced,' and he said, 'We don't think so.' "

Penn State trailed, 17-14, after Paterno's outburst. The Lions trailed by the same margin late in the game, when Rhys Lloyd kicked a 30-yard field goal for the Golden Gophers. The Lions drove to the Minnesota 15 with 25 seconds remaining, but backup quarterback Michael Robinson misfired on a fourth-down pass.

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Go, Go Gophers

Minnesota was No. 24 going into Saturday's victory and taking heat for its lackluster nonconference schedule, which featured Tulsa, Troy State, Ohio University and Louisiana Lafayette.

Defeating Penn State will do a lot for the Gophers' credibility in the rankings, but perhaps not as much as they would like. After all, next week's game against Michigan at Minneapolis had to be moved from Saturday to Friday to accommodate a Minnesota Twins' American League playoff game.

And if there had been a monster truck show booked for Friday night at the Metrodome, you get the feeling the Gophers would have had to play on Thursday afternoon.

Jokes aside, and Minnesota football has been nothing but for the better part of a generation, these Gophers can play. Best of all, they can run with the football. Coach Glen Mason has perhaps the most talented backfield in the conference, including Marion Barber III, who ran for 134 yards and a touchdown against Penn State.

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Meanwhile in Columbus ...

Ohio State frets ceaselessly about its running game, what with Maurice Clarett suspended for the season but attending classes while pursuing a lawsuit against the NFL that could make him eligible for next year's draft. Under league rules, he must be at least three seasons removed from his high school graduation to be drafted.

With Clarett sidelined, the Buckeyes gained 125 yards during a 20-0 victory over Northwestern, which was below their season average of 128 yards. And to think, Northwestern had given up 286 yards to Duke and 248 to Kansas.

What's more, Ohio State said Saturday it would wait until the spring to ask the NCAA to reinstate Clarett, who was suspended for receiving improper benefits and lying to investigators.

"I think we want to see the fall and winter quarters, to see how things go," said Andy Geiger, Ohio State athletic director. "He will not return this season. We're not ruling out spring quarter, but fall season he will not be a part of. We'll see how fall and winter go."

According to Geiger, Clarett made it to one class when the quarter began Thursday, but gave up on other classes because he was tailed by TV camera crews.

"He didn't want to run the gauntlet between I don't know how many television cameras. He gave up in disgust," Geiger said.

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Don't Blame the SI Jinx

A week after upsetting Michigan, Oregon's magazine cover boys were no-shows for their showdown against Washington State. How else to explain the 55-16 thumping the No. 10 Ducks took from the No. 21 Cougars?

"We were still thinking about the Michigan game and I really don't think we were fired up," Oregon receiver Sammie Parker said. "Everyone is usually fired up in the locker room, but we were really quiet today. We were just kind of waltzing around and I don't think we were ready to play."

Enough said.

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The Border War

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