UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The Miami Hurricanes found themselves in an environment made to order yesterday in this remote college outpost.
They had a top 10 opponent, a national television audience looking on and a deafening sound system that played their favorite rap music.
Not surprisingly, the No. 2 Hurricanes showed again why they've had the best program in college football the last decade. They outlasted No. 7 Penn State, 17-14, before a record crowd of 96,704 at Beaver Stadium with big-play defense and a revived running game.
For the second straight week, and the fifth time in the last six years, the Hurricanes conquered nationally ranked teams in back-to-back games. This one is certain to stoke the debate this week of which team should be ranked No. 1 -- the Washington Huskies or the Hurricanes.
Miami coach Dennis Erickson left no doubt about how he will vote.
"I'm voting us No. 1," Erickson said after the Hurricanes (5-0) extended Division 1-A's longest winning streak to 23 games. "Sometimes you have to look at what people accomplish. All I can tell you is, what we did the last two weeks, not many teams in the country can do."
Miami linebacker Jessie Armstead said this victory was even sweeter than last week's 19-16 decision over intrastate rival Florida State.
"It is, coming on the road, beating Penn State," Armstead said. "I guarantee Washington can't beat Penn State here."
It took the Hurricanes seven hours in traveling time Friday to arrive at Penn State. It took them only a few minutes into yesterday's pre-game warmup to feel comfortable with the surroundings.
"They treated us like this was the Orange Bowl, playing Public Enemy music," said middle linebacker Micheal Barrow. "I felt right at home. I started dancing on the field."
Lost in the noise of Penn State's newly installed stadium speakers was the Nittany Lions' bid for a national title. The Lions, losing at home for the first time since their 1990 opener against Texas, had cruised to a 5-0 record against inferior opposition.
The bill for that lightweight schedule came due yesterday when Penn State self-destructed with a variety of mistakes, not the least of which was a Miami-like nine penalties for 77 yards. The Hurricanes were penalized only twice.
"They played a perfect game," Penn State coach Joe Paterno said of Miami. "They didn't have a turnover. We got the penalties and we got the blocked field goal -- missed two field goals. It's tough to beat a team that good doing those things."
The biggest mistake of the day, though, was a hurried screen pass that Penn State quarterback John Sacca threw in the general direction of tailback Richie Anderson.
It never reached Anderson. It fell, instead, into the hands of defensive end Darren Krein, who raced 28 yards untouched for the third-quarter touchdown that proved decisive. The defensive score opened a 17-7 lead, and bailed out the Miami offense on a day when quarterback Gino Torretta completed only 11 of 31 passes for 80 yards. Miami's running game, in fact, outgained its passing game by 58 yards.
Armstead blitzed on the interception and hit Sacca as he was about to throw.
"That's the difference in quarterbacks," Barrow said of the play that turned the game. "Our quarterback would just have gone ahead and taken a sack. Their quarterback threw it away."
It was the first interception of Sacca's college career -- after 99 passes -- and the first of Penn State's season, ending a streak of 147 passes without an interception.
Paterno said Sacca was "a little bit shaky" on the play. "He knew as soon as he did it he made a mistake. But that didn't lose the game. There were a lot of places in there we could have won it."
Sacca had another pass intercepted later, and finished the game 17-for-31 for 170 yards.
Moving the ball was not a problem for Penn State. The Lions outgained Miami, 370-218, and had opportunities all day. But they got a glimpse of what was to come when place-kicker Craig Fayak's 48-yard field goal on their first series was blocked by Dexter Seigler.
Fayak, playing with a back injury, was wide left on a chip-shot 20-yard field-goal attempt after Penn State reached the Miami 2 in the second quarter.
Fayak missed still another field goal in the fourth quarter -- from 36 yards -- but the miss was erased when Miami was flagged for being offside. The penalty gave Penn State a first down on the Miami 14. Four plays later, trailing 17-7, they faced fourth-and-one at the Miami 5-yard line.
Their golden opportunity, though, was snuffed once again by Miami's tenacious defense.
Anderson, who rushed for 116 yards, took a toss right from Sacca, but was immediately hit by Barrow and dropped for a one-yard loss. That play loomed larger when Sacca threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to O. J. McDuffie with six minutes left in the game to get the Lions within three points, 17-14.
"We got great penetration from the linebackers," Barrow said. "I came from the other side. I was expecting Anderson to go over the top because he's done that before. But he came back right to me."
Down by three points, the Lions got the ball twice more in the final four minutes. But the first series ended with a punt, the second with an interception.
"It's very disappointing," said Penn State strong safety Derek Bochna. "The last couple of years we just couldn't pull off the big one. We let it slip right through our fingers."