- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 1, 2001

When No. 2 Miami invades State College tonight to face Penn State, no amount of emotional energy from the Happy Valley hosts will be able to erase the bottom line.
Sure, new Miami boss Larry Coker could have chosen a less unsettling site for his segue into the headset. Coker, the longtime offensive coordinator who took over when Butch Davis bolted for the NFL after last season, has a career head-coaching record of 0-0. Joe Paterno, the unofficial king of Pennsylvania, will be trying to match Bear Bryant's Division I-A record for career victories (323) tonight.
If that isn't inspiring enough for the Nittany Lions, or daunting enough to the 'Canes, consider the other little emotional asteroids set to impact tonight's proceedings:
Adam Taliaferro, the Penn State cornerback who was temporarily paralyzed in a game against Ohio State last season, has made a miraculous comeback and will lead his teammates out of the tunnel and onto the field tonight. Now, that's enough to give the goal posts goosebumps.
Then there are the festivities planned for halftime. During intermission, the 1986 Penn State national championship team will be honored.
That team, if you recall, managed a measly eight first downs against Miami in the Fiesta Bowl and was scandalously outplayed on both sides of the ball. But Miami Heisman winner Vinny Testaverde completed a few too many passes to Penn State linebackers Pete Giftopoulos and Shane Conlan, and PSU converted seven Miami turnovers into a 14-10 victory.
The disparity between tonight's squads is even greater, but the Penn State faithful are hoping the attendance of the old heroes can convince history to start stuttering.
Finally, there's newly-expanded Beaver Stadium, which now holds nearly 106,000 Nit-wits, most of whom will be foaming at the mouth after last season's 5-7 campaign the worst in JoePa's 35-year tenure.
But despite this slew of factors working against his 'Canes, Coker doesn't seem particularly concerned.
"We can sit around and find reasons not to do well," said Coker in his pre-game news conference. "But I don't want any coach or any player to give me reasons why we can't do well. We're going to go up there and expect to play well. I don't care if they have 286,000 people there. It doesn't matter."
None of the sidelights matter, because Coker comes to State College with a talent trump for each of Penn State's intangible tricks.
Miami has the better quarterback in junior Heisman candidate Ken Dorsey, the personification of poise. Dorsey passed for 2,727 yards and 25 touchdowns last season, while throwing just five interceptions. Even with a new corps of receivers, he's not likely to pull a Testaverde impersonation.
Second, Miami has the nation's best fleet of running backs. The 'Canes can run over you with senior fullback Najeh Davenport, run around you with junior tailback Clinton Portis (6.1 yards per carry last season) or run through you with redshirt freshman Willis McGahee, a 6-1, 225-pound hybrid back who was the top prep rusher in the nation in 1999.
Most importantly, all this firepower is protected by one of the best offensive lines ever to grace the college game.
The Hurricanes return all five starters (who average 6-5, 309 pounds) from an offensive front that helped them to an 11-1 record last season. They have a staggering total of 107 starts between them. Obviously, all are upperclassmen. Two are returning All-Americans tackles Joaquin Gonzalez and Bryant McKinnie. This particular duo gave up exactly one sack last season.
This, despite the delusions of 106,000 screaming Penn State fans, is the bottom line.
"The best way to settle down a crowd is by dominating the opposing team along the line," said McKinnie, the 6-9, 330-pounder who manhandled All-Americans Jamal Reynolds (Florida State) and Alex Brown (Florida) last season, allowing the two to record a combined one assisted tackle in the two Miami victories. "If you come right out and shove a team off the ball, everybody can see the writing's on the wall.
"It will be hard for us to communicate, but we're prepared for that with hand signals and silent counts and stuff like that. I can't wait to see how we perform up there with a crowd of 106,000."


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