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Paterno goes easy on criticism

Perhaps Joe Paterno can be second-guessed for his handling of Rashard Casey, the Penn State quarterback who was charged with assaulting an off-duty police officer during the off-season yet still starts.

But when it comes to preparing his teams to play, we'll give Joe Pa and his 35 years of experience, including a couple of national titles and undefeated seasons, the benefit of the doubt.

Penn State is 0-2, and this is difficult to comprehend. The Nittany Lions are on a five-game regular-season losing streak heading into today's game against Louisiana Tech _ the longest such streak in 69 years for the Nittany Lions. For the first time since 1964, they have lost three straight at home.

So it's understandable if fans, players, even Paterno, are frustrated.

But when tailback Larry Johnson ripped Penn State coaches for being too set in their ways after last week's shocking defeat to Toledo, you had to take notice. A player questioning Paterno? A player whose father, Larry Sr., is a defensive coach on Paterno's staff?

"It's the system, entirely the system," Johnson told reporters shortly after the game. "We've got coaches who've been here for 30, 20 years. It seems like things never change. We run the same offense, and teams that play us know what we're going to run."

The Nittany Lions rushed for just 30 yards on 27 carries with nine first downs. Toledo had 245 yards on the ground and was successful on 11 of 19 third-down conversions in the 24-6 upset.

To Paterno's credit, he did not come down on Johnson.

"It's hard to get angry with people when they're frustrated because they think they and the team can do better," Paterno said. "I'd never discipline a guy like that. I may sit them down and say, "Enough's enough' but I'm not going to condemn anybody.

"I'm trying to get kids to be that aggressive, that competitive and work that hard. Why get unhappy about it? Sometimes they don't know why they're unhappy.

"I say stuff every now and then that I wish I hadn't said to the press, and I've been doing this for 153 years."

NO REST: After a much-needed victory over Texas A&M, Notre Dame hardly has had time to celebrate. The Irish, who ended a four-game losing streak with their victory over the Aggies, play No. 1 Nebraska today.

"We've got a long way to go in a short period of time, because the football team that is coming in is probably as good a team as I've seen in a long time," said Notre Dame coach Bob Davie, who admitted that playing the Cornhuskers "is a lot more fun (being) 1-0 rather than 0-1. It's a tremendous boost in confidence, but we also are realistic. We see who's coming in next, and there's a lot we have to do better to even a have a chance."

BAD BLOOD: Tommy Tuberville doesn't expect a warm welcome when he returns to Ole Miss today. The Auburn coach left the Rebels the day after the 1998 season to take the job at Auburn.

"I don't think I'll be elected into their Hall of Fame any time soon," Tuberville said.

BAD MEMORIES: Purdue kicker Travis Dorsch is still trying to get over the Outback Bowl game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. He missed three field goals and an extra point in Purdue's 28-25 loss to Georgia. Last week, he kicked 43- and 45-yard field goals in a 48-0 victory over Central Michigan.

"In the back of my mind, I wanted to kick a field goal that wasn't a gimme," Dorsch said. "I wanted to challenge myself and put myself back in a pressure situation and succeed. That's the only way to get back in the flow."

AROUND THE NATION: It had been 10 years since UCLA knocked off a Top 5 team before last week. The Bruins' 35-24 victory over No. 3 Alabama was their first since Nov. 10, 1990, when they defeated No. 2 Washington 25-22. Since then, UCLA had been 0-4 against Top 5 teams, losing to Nebraska, Tennessee twice and Arizona State. Before Saturday's loss to Colorado State, Colorado had not lost to the Rams in consecutive years since 1948-49. CSU won 41-14 last year and 28-24 this year.

_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.