Joe Paterno hates to play freshman. That the Penn State coach would play a rookie at a glamour position says a lot about tailback Eric McCoo.
McCoo, who showed that he might be ready for college ball with a 41-yard run on his first play from scrimmage in September, proved it on Saturday. He ran for 163 yards and caught a touchdown pass as the Nittany Lions beat Purdue 31-13.
"Sure he was hot," Paterno said. "He's a strong runner, but obviously he has a lot of talent. I hate to put a freshman in a tough game like that, but he's doing fine."
On Penn State's second scoring drive, McCoo carried seven times for 49 yards, then caught a 12-yard TD pass -- his first collegiate score. And just after Purdue's Drew Brees engineered a touchdown to cut the lead to eight points, McCoo ran for 77 yards to set up the first of Aaron Harris' two touchdowns.
Paterno won't let freshmen talk to reporters, so McCoo's teammates did plenty of talking for him.
"First time I saw him run the ball, I said, `He's going to be tough,"' wideout Chafie Fields said. "Other freshmen come in and say `I'm at Penn State. Am I good enough?'"
The 5-foot-10, 195-poind McCoo, Fields said, came in trash-talking and cocky after rushing for 4,963 yards in high school.
| Penn State's Eric McCoo (8) celebrates his touchdown with teammate Kareem McKenzie during the Nittany Lions' 31-13 victory over Purdue. (AP) |
He led an offense that, after sputtering for three games, finally took advantage of the spectacular play of Penn State's (5-1, 2-1 Big Ten) defense.
The 12th-ranked Nittany Lions' relentless pass rush pressured Brees throughout, but he still managed 39-of-58 for 361 yards with one interception. After passing for 1,116 yards and eight TDs in his last two games, he only had one touchdown pass against a defense that sacked him six times and harassed him into several bad passes.
"They were blitzing just about every play," Brees said. "They had a three-man front and they blitzed all those linebackers. Some of the sacks were my fault. I'd kind of drift out of the pocket into the defenders hands. This is one of the best defense's we've faced."
After Brees threw 83 passes in last week's loss to Wisconsin, the Boilermakers knew they needed to run. But they never did, rushing for minus-12 yards, the fewest allowed by Penn State since Maryland ran for minus-32 in 1978.
"Our guys were concerned about their speed coming off the edge," Purdue coach Joe Tiller said. "As a result, we played tentative."
LaVar Arrington led the defense with nine tackles. Courtney Brown had three sacks and seven tackles. David Macklin grabbed his third interception and Bhawoh Jue had eight tackles.
"We didn't want them to catch the ball, but you can see in their eyes they're going to catch it, so we worked on our tackling," Jue said. "We were able to hold 'em. We bent, but we didn't break," he said. "We bent a lot."
The offense, which had sputtered for three games, turned in four steady touchdown drives.
Kevin Thompson went 15-for-24 for 196 yards, rushed for one TD and set up one with a 45-yard pass to Corey Jones. Harris scored a 4-yard TD on the next play to give Penn State a 21-6 lead.
Purdue (3-4, 1-2) answered with its first touchdown on Brees' 16-yard pass to Gabe Cox. But after Harris' second touchdown put Penn State up 28-13, Randall Lane bobbled the kickoff at the 1, the Boilermakers went three-and-out and didn't threaten again.
For all the hype about Brees, defensive end Roosevelt Colvin kept the Boilermakers in the game by twice hammering Thompson to force interceptions. Adrian Beasley intercepted a wobbling bomb late in the second quarter and Billy Gustin picked off another in the third quarter that led to Travis Dorsch's second field goal, cutting the lead to 14-6.
Colvin also had a sack and blocked a field goal attempt.
Thompson guided Penn State to its two longest drives of the year as Penn State took a 14-3 first-half lead.
Purdue helped on he first drive with 35 yards in penalties. Thompson completed a 10-yard pass to Mike Cerimele on third-and-8 and scored to cap the 13-play, 96-yard drive. Then he hit McCoo with the 12-yard TD.
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