Before the crowd senses it and long before it shows on the scoreboard, the linemen realize when one team begins to dominate another. That Penn State would rout a good Maryland team yesterday became obvious to Matt Millon "midway through the first quarter."
"That's when I felt we had control," the Lion defensive tackle said. "That's the earliest I've ever felt like that."
State was ahead by 3-0 at the time. In time, the score would become whatever Joe Paterno wanted, because the Lions played defense as well as anyone this side of the NFL. The only numbers that merit mention are these: Maryland ran 43 times.
"Really?" said terrapin blocker Paul Glamp
"Really?" said Terrapin blocker Paul Glamp when told of that minus-32 figure. "I guess it does astound me. They just teed off on us."
The Penn State defenders were uncertain before the game, because the films Maryland sent them were not at full speed. Whether this was on purpose or the result of a bum camera remains unknown. It did not much matter by halftime.
"Am I surprised at the (27-3) score?" Millen said. "Yes and no. If I'd known what I do now I'd say no. I now think we should have scored a couple more touchdown."
Films also occupied Steve Atkins' postgame thoughts.
"We saw their defense on film, but the film was different. We thought we could block 'em. We couldn't. We thought we could run on 'em. We couldn't.
"The films must have lied."
Atkins was State's primary defensive concern - and safety Pete Harris, who also intercepted three passes, did not hide his opinion about the Terrapins' leading runner.
"I thought he was tougher than he was," Harris said. "It didn't look like he blew through the holes. I thought he was better than that."
Atkins might well reply: What holes?"
By contrast, the Penn State offensive line played well against Maryland's usually excellent defense. Quarterback Chuck Fusina could have read "War and Peace" and still had time to diagnose the Terrapin coverage.
"That's the reason you play football," offensive tackle keith Dorney said of the mismatch. "You want to dominate the other line. That's what you get paid for."
The Lions' first offensive series had a message Paterno explained later. The opening three plays were a reverse screen, a fullback draw and a right pitchout. The drive ended with a field goal, when the State halfback slipped en route to an apparent first down on three-and-three from the 18.
"I wanted to show them we were going to play the game our way," Paterno said. "I didn't want to get into a slugging contest. I didn't want to keep exchanging punts with them. I wanted to keep 'em off balance."
Indeed, State's defensive knockout came about with speed and jabs rather than power.Let Millen tell you why he and Bruce Clark made it possible for their buddy, Larry Kubin, to be the game's most spectacular player.
"We turned their tackles," Millen said, "and their guards had to double-team us. That left them one-on-one with Larry - and there is no way anyone can stop him one on one. He has great judgment and great speed. And he plays with intensity, that's the key."
If the pain is not severe enough for Maryland already, the defensive standouts for Penn State yesterday will be back. Millen and Clark are juniors, as is Harris. Kubin and halfback Karl McCoy are sophomores.
"You start to feel a little loose, a little more free," Kubin said of his reaction to the Lions' early success. "Some of the things we did were like miracles." That was a reference to the one-handed catches by receiver Bob Bassett and safety Harris.
But the Penn State victory was no miracle. It got Maryland down early and would not allow the sort of ultraconservative game that teams with ordinary quarterbacks try to force. Still, Fusina would have seemed average had he been facing the Lion defense yesterday.
"With the exception of one play (when Dean Richards broke by McCoy and caught a 33-yard pass)," Paterno said, "that's about as well as anyone can play defense. This one looked like the '69 defense that included future NFL players Mike Reid, John Ebersole, Jack Ham and Dennis Onkotz)."
Fusina (which State insists rhymes with Heisman) did not throw consistently well, although, as Paterno said: "How can throw a lousy pass for an interception and then come right back and throw a bullet to (Tom) Donovan for a touchdown."
The bottom line to the second-ranked Lions whipping the fifth-ranked terrapins is that the winners had more superior players, more alternatives. Maryland contained Scott Fitzkee on offense, so Fusina threw to Donovan and the tight end. Maryland concentrated on Millen and Clark, so Kubin and some other made most of the tackles.
Unless the Lions trip over their press notices the final two regular-season games - and N.C. State's Ted Brown gained 251 yards against them last year - they will be no worse than second going into the bowls.
An hour after the game yesterday, one of the Orange Bowl representatives introduced himself to Paterno and tried to stick a small Orange-Bowl decal on the coach's lapel.
Paterno could not have jumped backwards faster if the man had been pointing a hand gun toward his chest. Politely, Paterno said: "I'm not wearing anything yet."