UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The only question left unanswered by Penn State's 41-7 victory over Arizona at Beaver Stadium yesterday was this: Are the third-ranked Nittany Lions that good or are the fourth-ranked Wildcats that bad?
In as dominating a performance as any of Joe Paterno's 34 teams have had against a nationally-ranked opponent, Penn State turned the Pigskin Classic into an afternoon highlight reel.
Which play would you like to see again?
Was it wide receiver Chafie Fields taking a short pass over the middle from senior quarterback Kevin Thompson and turning it into a 37-yard touchdown on the game's opening possession, or was it Fields taking an inside handoff from reserve quarterback Rashard Casey and scooting by the Wildcats for a 70-yard touchdown less than three minutes later?
For those who prefer defense -- like Paterno -- maybe it was All-America linebacker LaVar Arrington busting through Arizona's offensive line to stop tailback Trung Canidate for a 5-yard loss on third-and-two from the Penn State 18 on the Wildcats' opening possession. Or was it defensive end Justin Kurpeikas blocking the fourth punt of his career to set up a 31-yard field goal by Travis Forney for a 17-0 lead?
And then there were the plays Penn State made in the last three quarters.
The one-sided game was reminiscent of the 44-6 hammering the Nittany Lions took at the hands of No. 1 Nebraska in the 1983 Kickoff Classic, the last time two teams ranked in the top five met in a season-opening game. It was not any resemblance to the Penn State team that struggled offensively last year, in part because of Paterno's admitted reluctance to give players such as Fields more freedom.
"This year I thought we'd give them a chance to make some plays," said Paterno, who celebrated the start of his 50th season at Penn State overall with his 308th career victory. "We've tried to get a little more flexibility in our offense We kind of laugh when people say we don't have anybody who can run. We had speed last year and we have speed this year."
Fields, a talented if erratic player over the first three years of his career, had demonstrated his open-field explosiveness before. He turned a more traditional reverse into a 70-yard gain against Texas in the Fiesta Bowl as a redshirt freshman. But even he hadn't seen the play Paterno called on second-and-seven from the Penn State 30 with a little more than nine minutes to go in the first quarter.
"Coach brought that play out of the archives," said Fields, who as a wide-out would finish with 110 yards rushing on three carries along with three catches for 76 more. "I think Arizona was tricked a lot today. They were going a lot on what we did last year and they ended up getting caught."
Said Arizona linebacker DaShon Polk, "That play [by Fields] messed us up. When something like that happens, a good team will come back to their sideline and make adjustments. But we're not a good team and we didn't."
By halftime, Penn State had built its lead to 31-0. In all, Penn State's offense had produced 361 yards in the first half.
In its first 99 years of playing football, no Wildcats team had come this far east to play a game. Arizona had the same kind of national championship dreams coming into this year as the Nittany Lions, having won 16 of its last 17 games and finishing last season 12-1. After their performance yesterday, the Wildcats might be lucky to stay in the Top 25, while Penn State might vault to No. 1.
"I hope Penn State is a good football team," said Arizona coach Dick Tomey. "They whipped up in every way."
Said quarterback O.J. Jenkins: "They punished us like we were a Pop Warner team."