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As BYU prepared for tonight's Holiday Bowl showdown with Penn State, one memory kept reoccurring to Norm Chow, the Cougars' quarterback coach and play-caller. He remembered

watching Penn State play Miami and quarterback Vinnie Testeverde in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl for the national championship."I was watching the game on TV, and I remember how confused Testeverde looked," recalls Chow. "Penn State seemed to have him confused the whole game."

Testeverde, the Heisman Trophy winner, was intercepted five times as Penn State pulled off a 14-10 upset. The point is not lost on Chow, who located films of that game and studied them, along with his quarterback. For while Penn State Coach Joe Paterno has run around San Diego this week, dutifully praising his opponent and wondering aloud how the Nittany Lions will ever stop BYU's prolific pass offense, the Cougars are sure he has something up his sleeve. The word on Paterno is, given a month to prepare for an opponent, any opponent, he'll find a way to win. He engineered the upset of Miami and, after all, isn't Miami merely BYU South?

Paterno himself has said, "The closest team in style that we've played to BYU would be Miami in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl."

And look what the Lions did to Miami.

Chow studied the Fiesta Bowl film "just to get a feel for what they were doing that night. They mixed it up on every down. They supposedly used 24 different (pass) coverages and 36 different fronts against Miami. I don't even know that many different looks."

Tonight's game might very well be decided by how well the Cougars - particularly quarterback Ty Detmer - recognize Penn State's pass coverages. Sure, the Nittany Lions have a fine running back in Blair Thomas, and the offense is adequate, if unspectacular and one-dimensional, but they don't win games with offense. Asked what worries him most about Penn State, Detmer says, "Knowing what coverages they're going to use. I know they'll be trying to switch up on us, because they've had a month to prepare for this game."

The Lions have not been idle in that month. They have practiced hard enough to injure both of their second-string running backs. You can bet they are trying to find some way of confusing Detmer - of making one defense look like another, of switching coverages from one play to the next, of luring him into throwing a bad pass. The Lions have been known to drop a noseguard into pass coverage, to play a linebacker as a short centerfielder, to employ a free-lance blitzing linebacker.

Detmer says, "There's nothing they can do that we haven't seen." If only he can recognize it quickly enough, from down to down.

BYU Coach LaVell Edwards says Penn State "will have the best defense we've seen this year."

This is a defense that allowed an average of 11.8 points and 328.5 yards per game this season. A defense that allowed only one team - Notre Dame - to gain more than 400 yards and score more than 17 points - in this the era of the prolific offense.

If the Lions have a weakness, it is their offense. They managed a paltry 332 yards and 19 points a game, most of it coming from Thomas, who gained 1,341 yards.

"They just try to run over you," says BYU linebacker Bob Davis. "It's nothing fancy. But they execute better than any team I've seen in the four years I've been at BYU. They don't miss blocks."

"Their defense is impressive," says BYU tight end Chris Smith. "Watching them on film, you don't see a guy breaking tackles against them."

BYU defensive coordinator Dick Felt says, "They look a little disinterested throwing the ball. They concentrate on running, and they come right at you."

Penn State quarterback Tony Sacca completed just 40.9 percent of his 137 passes this year for 694 yards; the team's other quarterback, Tom Bill, completed 48.9 percent of 88 attempts for 605 yards.

Despite a so-so offense, Penn State, with its tough defense, narrowly missed having a brilliant season. They lost to Virginia by two, to Alabama by one, to Notre Dame by one, and finished with a 7-3-1 record. Credit the defense, which, remarkably, allowed a mere 13 touchdowns in 11 games - a defense anchored by linebackers Andre Collins and Brian Chizmar and safety Sherrod Rainge.

Certainly, the Nittany Lions have due respect for Detmer. Penn State cornerback Willie Thomas caught Detmer's act on ESPN earlier this season, long before he knew he would face him. Thomas watched Detmer throw for 537 yards in a four-point loss to Washington State.

"I was just trying to relax," recalls Thomas, "but there was this quarterback that caught my eye . . . I even called a couple of teammates to turn on the TV and watch Detmer. Even from watching on television, you could tell he really could see the field and was a gifted athlete. I told a buddy, `This guy Detmer is great.' The next day (teammates Hernon Henderson and Rainge) and I were talking about what it would be like to play pass defense against an offense like BYU's."

And so they will find out.


(Additional information)

100-yard rushers against BYU in bowl games

1976 - Terry Miller (Oklahoma State), 173

1980 - Craig James (SMU), 225; Eric Dickerson, 110

1982 - Tim Spencer (Ohio State), 167

1983 - Eric Drain (Missouri), 115

1984 - Bob Perryman (Michigan), 110

1986 - Gaston Green (UCLA), 266

1988 - Eric Bienemy (Colorado), 144


(Additional information)

BYU's lineup


29 Brent Nyberg (6-2, 220) WR

17 Andy Boyce (6-0, 185) WR

94 Chris Smith (6-4, 230) TE

61 Mike Keim (6-8, 290) RT

72 Bryan May (6-7, 290) RG

58 Robert Stephens (6-3, 265) C

66 Mohammed Elewonibi (6-5, 290) LG

76 Neal Fort (6-6, 295) LT

14 Ty Detmer (6-0, 175) QB

8 Matt Bellini (6-0, 205) HB

33 Fred Whittingham (5-10,200) FB


51 Craig Patterson (6-5, 295) LT

97 Tim Adams (6-4, 285) NG

59 Rich Kaufusi (6-4, 265) RT

9 Chad Robinson (6-3, 245) OLB

45 Rocky Biegel (6-2, 225) ILB

36 Bob Davis (6-1, 230) ILB

54 Duane Johnson (6-5, 244) OLB

24 Tony Crutchfield (5-10,190) LC

2 Norman Dixon (6-1, 195) SS

7 Eric Bergeson (6-1, 195) FS

30 Brian Mitchell (5-10,165) RC


(Additional information)

Penn State's lineup


8 Terry Smith (5-8, 155) WR

26 Dave Daniels (6-1, 185) WR

86 Dave Jakob (6-2, 235) TE

71 Tim Freeman (6-5, 270) RT

57 Sean Love (6-3, 270) RG

78 Roger Duffy (6-3, 270) C

79 Dave Szott (6-4, 267) LG

64 Matt McCartin (6-5, 270) LT

19 Tony Sacca (6-5, 219) QB

32 Blair Thomas (5-11, 190) TB

44 Leroy Thompson (5-11, 206) FB


85 Frank Giannetti (6-2, 245) LT

72 Jim Deter (6-2, 258) NG

75 Rich Schonewolf (6-4, 265) RT

38 Mark D'Onofrio (6-2, 230) OLB

28 Brian Chizmar (6-0, 215) ILB

31 Andre Collins (6-2, 225) ILB

58 Reggie Givens (6-0, 204) OLB

40 Hernon Henderson 6-0, 185) LC

27 Gary Brown (5-11, 205) SS

36 Sherrod Rainge (6-1, 201) FS

25 Willie Thomas (5-9, 174) RC