They chatted. LaVar Arrington kept smearing Tim Couch. As he delivered passes, Kentucky's thoroughbred quarterback was crunched repeatedly by Penn State's dynamic linebacker.
Frequently, the collisions were followed by battlefield banter. But not predictable, foul, 1999-style jock lyrics. No trash talk. Instead, some admirably civil repartee between mega-energized but wholly respectful competitors.
"Me and Couch, we gabbed all game," said 233-pound sophomore Arrington, the newest superlative evidence at ever-perpetuating Linebacker U. "You don't have to hate on a field. Couch is a marvelous talent who has tremendous guts."
Five times, the Nittany Lions sacked Kentucky's hero. Just a part of Couch's punishment. He got smacked at least 10 times more. Touchdown Timmy had been a killer in the Outback Bowl's opening quarter. Eleven throws, 10 completions, 137 yards, two touchdowns and a 14-3 lead.
Penn State adjusted.
There was predictable bounceback by the proud, old football colossus from Happy Valley. Joe Paterno removed his black-and-violet jacket. Loosened a stylish necktie. Penn State's wondrous 72-year-old coach rolled white shirt-sleeves. Pulled up his sweat socks.
Couch was in trouble.
Courtney Brown, a 265-pound defensive tackle, began to blow holes in Kentucky's protection for Couch. He had seven tackles, two sacks and a world of impact.
Arrington became a near-unblockable blur. At his Pittsburgh high school, LaVar was an extraordinary running back with 4,357 yards. Lightning in those legs. Athletic skills are endless. He got basketball scholarship offers from North Carolina, UMass and Georgetown.
"One time, LaVar hit me so hard I became a bit addled," Couch said. "He then began talking, but I couldn't reply. My head was spinning. Most of the afternoon, we had fine conversation. LaVar seemed like a great person when he wasn't trying to take my head off."
Kentucky was playing its first New Year's Day bowl since 1952, late in the Truman administration when Col. Sanders was still a finger-licking corporal and Bear Bryant coached Wildcats football.
It's been a memorable season.
But instantly, with a 26-14 humbling, it became basketball season at UK. Prime time to Big Blue people. Surely, as they bolted for home, Kentucky broods began to talk less of football guys coached by Hal Mumme and more about Tubby Smith's team and today's Rupp Arena match against the Florida Gators. Wondering if this might be another national championship season, including a return engagement in March for the Final Four in St. Petersburg.
No matter . . .
It was a beautiful autumn in Lexington. More jabbering about football than in decades. Probably since Bear times. Couch may not throw another pass for Kentucky, but his reign has been fabulous. Maybe even legendary.
Keeping it going will be difficult for Mumme, but Bluegrass appetite just maybe has become considerable for something other than basketball, bourbon, race horses and fried chicken.
Couch is 6 feet 5 and 225 pounds of talent and toughness. Chances are, the junior from a Kentucky borough called Hyden is about to volunteer for the NFL draft. David Macklin, a Penn State cornerback who had a sack, approached the Wildcats quarterback post-Outback and said, "The future is yours, man."
Cleveland would have the first crack at the big Kentuckian with 76 collegiate TD passes. Be smart, Brownies. Don't get caught napping on this Couch.
He appears as skilled as Peyton Manning while obviously being blessed with far more patience, judgment and admirable disposition than benched San Diego Chargers multimillionaire Ryan Leaf.
"We kept hitting Couch," Arrington said. "Our persistence was the key. But, always, Tim would get up and come back firing. As the hits on him began to amass their toll, he did get up a little more slowly. But if I were an NFL coach, that's the kind of guy I'd want as my quarterback."