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Penn State's Offensive Shift Gets Noticed

Florida State will give special attention to quarterback Robinson in the Orange Bowl.

January 03, 2006|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden looks at Penn State and sees the same old-school uniforms, the same white helmets adorned with a simple blue stripe, the same Joe Paterno on the sideline.

Something, though, is different.

"The biggest change in Penn State over the last few years has been their offense," Bowden said as No. 22 Florida State prepared for its upset bid against No. 3 Penn State tonight in the Orange Bowl.

The changes are obvious with Michael Robinson at quarterback. A superb athlete who played running back and receiver and nearly transferred before finally getting his chance to be a full-time quarterback this season, Robinson helped Penn State to a 10-1 record and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Bowden said Paterno has needed someone who can break open a game, "and now he has that."

"Their offense now is so explosive, compared to the past, and a lot of that begins with their quarterback," he said. "He can take a busted play and do more with it than anybody we've faced.

"We played a quarterback at Virginia Tech [Marcus Vick] who was the same way, and we were able to hem him up," Bowden said. "I don't know if we want to hem [Robinson] up. He may run you over like a bull if you try that."

Containing Vick is how the Seminoles reached the Orange Bowl at 8-4, by upsetting Virginia Tech, then ranked fifth, in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game.

The Seminoles sacked Vick six times, picked off one of his passes and took a 21-point lead before Vick passed for a touchdown and ran for two more in a futile fourth-quarter rally in Florida State's 27-22 victory.

There will be a notable difference in Florida State's defense tonight, however. Linebacker A.J. Nicholson, the Seminoles' leading tackler and a semifinalist for the Butkus Award, will not play. He was sent home after police opened an investigation into an alleged sexual assault against a 19-year-old woman at the team hotel last week.

"You get disappointed about what happened, but ultimately we came to play," said nose guard Brodrick Bunkley, who set a Florida State record with 23 tackles for losses this season. "What happened is over with. We just have to go out there and do our best."

The Florida State defense will have to slow Robinson's running as much as his passing. He ran for 125 yards and passed for another 238 against Wisconsin this season and broke Kerry Collins' Penn State season record for total offense, with 2,882 yards and counting.

His teammates and coaches cite his leadership as much as his athleticism.

Galen Hall, the Nittany Lions' offensive coordinator, called him a player who can convince everyone in the huddle they can score.

"Anyone who has sacrificed as much as he has, and this is before I got here, playing different positions and taking a while to get back to the quarterback position, and all the hard work that he's done, I think the players respect him very much," Hall said.

They remember in particular the Northwestern game, when Penn State lost four turnovers in the first half and fell behind by 16 points. Robinson brought them back in the final minutes by completing a pass on fourth and 15 with two minutes left and throwing the winning touchdown pass in a 34-29 victory to freshman standout Derrick Williams with 51 seconds left.

Williams, who broke his arm against Michigan in October, has been working out with the team, but Paterno said he doubted Williams would play because doctors were concerned about the possibility of nerve damage if he were re-injured.

For all the talk of Penn State's wide-open offense, the Penn State defense is the Nittany Lions' backbone.

Linebacker Paul Posluszny -- often mentioned in the same category as Penn State greats Jack Ham, Shane Conlan and LaVar Arrington -- won the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker, as well as the Bednarik Award, presented to the top defensive player.

Together with defensive end Tamba Hali, Posluszny gave Penn State two first-team All-American defensive players, and cornerback Alan Zemaitis was named to the second team.

"A-plus, A-plus, A-plus," Florida State offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden said when asked about the Penn State defense.

"Are they fancy? I don't know. They win. They are tough. That is what a defense ought to be."

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