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History Lesson A rebuilt Southern Cal came to Happy Valley with big plans, only to find that the team that had truly reclaimed its past was Linebacker U

The word out in California was that the USC running game had been
restored -- Student Body Right and all that jazz -- and with it the
glory of Trojan teams past. When coach John Robinson returned to Troy
in 1993 from the NFL, he had the offensive line rebuilt to his
specifications, i.e., ''big,'' as Robinson said, meaning more than
290 pounds per man. Behind the line was a stable of Trojan horses,
including freshman tailback Delon Washington, who rushed 10 times for
110 yards in USC's 17-10 victory over Washington in the season
opener. During the off-season Stanford coach Bill Walsh had called
USC ''Yesterday U.'' Robinson had apparently embraced that moniker,
intent on recapturing the good old days at USC.
Meanwhile, in Happy Valley. . . . While Penn State's offense had
been impressive against Minnesota, the defense was still untested.
Only three starters had returned from 1993's underwhelming defense,
which yielded an average of 352 yards per game and a total of 148
points over the last six regular-season games of '93. ''We're
always trying to prove ourselves,'' said senior defensive end Jeff
Perry. ''We're always playing scared.'' Said senior linebacker Brian
Gelzheiser, one of those three returning starters, ''We get into a
mind-set where we struggle and then everybody panics. We just have to
pay attention to details.''
Against the visiting Trojans, the Penn State defense paid
attention, holding USC to just 60 yards on the ground. In the first
three quarters, Trojan quarterback Rob Johnson had just 74 yards
through the air and was sacked six times. Washington gained just 44
yards on nine carries; usually steady sophomore Shawn Walters had
only 34 yards on 13 carries. At halftime the score was Penn State 35,
USC 0; the final score was 38-14. The Trojans didn't score an
offensive touchdown until Washington ran the ball in from five yards
out with 7:22 left in the game.
''We were overwhelmed right off the bat,'' said Robinson. ''I
suppose one could say they can't do that against everybody, but
they're 2-0. They look like as good a football team as I've seen.''
Gelzheiser finished with 10 tackles, and his fumble recovery in
the first quarter led to Penn State's second touchdown. ''He makes a
big difference out there,'' said senior linebacker Willie Smith. ''He
takes the pressure off some of the guys. You can relax a little more.
You know he's going to take care of his business, and you just have
to take care of your own.''
Although it was easy to become mesmerized by the flashy
performance of the Lions' offense over the first two games, it was
worth remembering that over the years, it has been defense that has
built the Penn State football program. After all, it is Linebacker U.
And by this time Gelzheiser had proved that he clearly belonged at a
school with that nickname. The 6 ft. 1", 235-pound former quarterback
at Baldwin High in Pittsburgh had shown that he played with his head
as well as his body -- and that he could play even when his body was
damaged. He had missed the Minnesota game after spraining his right
knee during the preseason; for the rest of the year he would wear a
brace that caused numbness in his foot.
Gelzheiser suffered in the name of defense. And against USC,
defense was the name of the game.