It took John Sacca four games to get a leg up on his older brother, Tony.
In his fourth start at quarterback for Penn State, John, a redshirt ,, sophomore, passed for 303 yards in a 38-24 victory over Rutgers on Saturday night.
In 38 career starts at Penn State, Tony, the most prolific passer in school history, never threw for 300 yards in a game.
So when the two siblings spoke by phone Monday morning, Tony wanted to know just one thing.
"He asked how I got to throw so much," said John, who needed 37 passes, with 21 completions, to compile only the third 300-yard passing game in Penn State history.
That was a topic dear to Tony Sacca's heart during his career at Penn State, where passing has never been as popular with the coaches as, say, running off-tackle. A rookie with the Phoenix Cardinals now, Sacca used to campaign weekly -- and publicly -- to get coach Joe Paterno to throw more.
The seventh-ranked Nittany Lions will need a passing game in tomorrow's nationally televised, noon showdown with No. 2 Miami at Beaver Stadium. The Hurricanes have the fourth-ranked rush defense in the nation, and one of the most dangerous passing games, as well.
The quarterback matchup of Sacca against Miami's more celebrated Gino Torretta may not be the mismatch it appears to be. But it could mean the difference in either team's national title bid. At least, it represents Sacca's best chance to make a name for himself.
"I'm looking forward to the exposure," Sacca said. "I look at it as a big challenge for me and the team. It's nice to get some recognition, finally."
Recognition has not come easily for Sacca, 20. He considered transferring to William & Mary after spring practice, when he lost the starting job to Kerry Collins. But Collins broke his right index finger during the summer and only recently returned to practice. The starting job fell to Sacca by default.
"I sat down with Joe after spring practice and he told me I was the No. 2 man," Sacca said. "I considered [transferring] an
option. But the bottom line was, I'd have to sit out another year and I wasn't willing to pay that price."
Sacca's production has improved in leaps and bounds. After a shaky 1-for-6 debut against Cincinnati in which he injured his right collarbone, he sat out a romp over Temple. Then, in successive weeks, he has thrown for 153 yards and two touchdowns against Eastern Michigan, 195 yards and two touchdowns against Maryland, and 303 yards and three touchdowns against Rutgers.
He ranks seventh nationally in pass efficiency and has not been intercepted in 83 passes. Torretta ranks only 39th in pass efficiency, but is sixth in total offense, averaging 291.25 yards a game.
Whether Sacca is ready to face a team of Miami's caliber is more to the point.
"I think John has done very well," Paterno said, wading cautiously into the debate. "He's gotten better each week. Certainly, he's ready to go into this game. I'd like him to be in a couple of big, tough, football games where everything is on the line in the last quarter, but sooner or later, he has to go through it."
Sacca has already gone through the inevitable brother-to-brother comparisons, a circumstance John invited by following Tony to Penn State. He sounds unfazed by it all. "You come to expect it and live with it," he said.
John so far has not been as outspoken as his brother.
"I'm a free-spirited person," the younger Sacca said. "I respect that Tony said what he wanted. I do what's best for the team. . . . My relationship with Joe is different. Tony's whole situation with Joe was blown out of proportion. If it wasn't, I wouldn't have come here. Tony just said he wanted to throw the ball a little more."
The comparison consensus: Tony has the stronger arm, John is more mobile. Said Paterno, "John has a little better touch on the long ball. At this stage, he does more things on the line of scrimmage well than I think Tony did."
Airing it out
Penn State's top passing games:
Quarterback.... ... Yards... Opponent... Year
Todd Blackledge.... 358... .. Miami... . 1981
Chuck Fusina... ... 315... .. N.C. State 1977
John Sacca... ... . 303... .. Rutgers... 1992