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Robinson, Freshmen Flyers tear up turf

Knight Ridder

Knight Ridder

September 18, 2005|By FRANK FITZPATRICK

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Beaver Stadium's always perfect grass surface has been in such distress this season it might soon need replacement. Thick sod chunks fly up from beneath spikes like divots from well-struck wedges. And at halftime on Saturday, for the only time anyone could remember, the parched turf needed emergency watering.

Perhaps neither the dry spell nor maintenance difficulties are to blame. Maybe it's just that, for once in this mediocre millenium, there are Penn State feet racing madly back and forth atop the turf.

Michael Robinson and his Freshmen Flyers proved again on Saturday that they aren't going to let any grass grow beneath their feet this season, routing Central Michigan, 40-3, in a dominating performance that left the 3-0 Nittany Lions unbeaten heading into Big Ten play next week.

"They're amazing," Robinson, who completed 14 of 23 for 274 yards and three touchdowns, said of his young receivers. "They're getting wide open. All I'm doing is putting it out there."

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Robinson and backup Anthony Morelli combined for 381 passing yards, second in Penn State history to the 399 accumulated against Iowa in 2002. And again, in a victory that gave Penn State five consecutive wins for the first time since 1999, it was the freshmen wideouts who did the bulk of the damage.

Redshirt Deon Butler caught five balls for 108 yards, including second-quarter scoring passes from Robinson of 54 and 24 yards. Derrick Williams had two receptions for 47 yards. Justin Norwood caught three passes, Justin King one.

"To be frank, their defensive scheme let us do some things," Joe Paterno said of the Chippewas (1-2).

Like catching passes with no defender within 10 yards.

"They were really getting wide open," said Morelli.

Sophomore Terrell Golden hauled in a 47-yard TD from Robinson in the third quarter. And Morelli hooked up with senior transfer Ethan Kilmer on a 55-yard scoring play with 5:54 left in the game.

The other Nittany Lions scores came on Robinson's 2-yard first-quarter run, which produced the game's first points, and on field goals of 33 and 37 yards by Kevin Kelly, a strong-legged freshman from Neshaminy High.

"If we're not where we ought to be, we're close," Paterno said of his team, which after three wins against pliable opposition opens its Big Ten schedule this Saturday at Northwestern.

On a day when the Lions' weary defense thought it might at last get some rest, Penn State's offense continued to display the quick-strike capability that is becoming its signature trait.

None of the seven scoring drives took more than six plays. Butler's two TD passes capped drives of just two and three plays. Kilmer's score on a slant pattern was that drive's third play.

"There's nothing wrong with scoring quick," said winded defensive end Tamba Hali, who had 2 1/2 of the eight sacks Penn State collected against constantly harassed Chippewas QB Kent Smith, who finished 23 of 36 for 143 yards.

"But what I'd really like to see from us as we head into the Big Ten is to start on the 5-yard line and drive the ball all the way down field.

"In the Big Ten, things are going to be tougher and more physical. We're going to have to do that sooner or later."

In addition to the eight sacks, Penn State's starters limited their opponents to just 95 yards of total offense through three quarters. Despite three Penn State turnovers, the Chippewas' only score came on a 31-yard Rick Albreski field goal with 29 seconds remaining in the half.

That 29 seconds, incidentally, was plenty of time for Penn State. Williams returned the ensuing kickoff 56 yards, and after a 2-yard Robinson run and his 16-yard pass to Butler, Kelly's field goal gave the Nittany Lions a 26-3 halftime lead.

"Obviously, this offense has a different personality than some of the ones we've had around here," said Paterno in what, for all those who recall games like last year's 6-4 loss to Iowa, was a massive understatement.

And that gives some hope to long-sufferfing Penn State fans - 100,276 of whom watched the passing fireworks in delight.

"I wouldn't say this is the high-water for our program in these last couple years," said offensive lineman Tyler Reed. "We haven't played any Big Ten teams yet. But I know we're all looking forward to getting started with that."

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