Friday, December 13, 2002
1992 - Penn State 42, Tennessee 17
By Jordan Burchette
The 1991 Tennessee Volunteers were one of the most talented teams to ever go 9-3.
Perhaps that's why they finished the way they did.
Typified by eventual Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Carl Pickens, the Vols were a self-assured, if not cocky squad, confident that they would overwhelm Penn State in Fiesta Bowl XXI.
"They mocked us a lot," said former Nittany Lion receiver O.J. McDuffie. "They figured they had this one in the bag because they knew they were a talented team."
|In a tale of two halves, the Vols dominated the first.|
However, it quickly appeared as though any notion of a Tennessee Waltz would be rudely interrupted by the Lions in the early going.
Following a Dale Carter fumble on the opening kickoff recovered by the Lions, Penn State darted out to a swift 7-0 lead on the arm of Tony Sacca. He connected with running back Sam Gash for the 10-yard score only 1:19 into the game.
The Vols answered authoritatively with a 10-play, 62-yard drive culminating with a 1-yard James Stewart rumble into the end zone.
Tennessee continued to move the ball at will against Penn State, but failed to find the end zone, settling for a 24-yard John Beckvoort field goal before the quarter ended.
Though the Volunteers were still moving the ball ad nauseam, the second quarter would see no further scoring.
"I remember (Tennessee quarterback Andy) Kelly targeting Carl (Pickens)," recalled McDuffie, "and every DB we'd put on him, he'd beat 'em. I thought it was going to be a long day."
A field goal attempt failed, as did a fourth-down attempt at the Penn State 17-yard line, leaving Tennessee empty-handed following two lengthy drives.
The Vols had amassed an ungodly 324 yards of offense before the break, 204 of which came on the arm of a hot-handed Kelly.
"They were killing us," remembered the current Miami Dolphins star. "They weren't getting into the end zone, but he was still killing us."
The Lions, conversely, were barely conscious, managing a meager 59 yards total offense in the first two periods, as Tennessee dominated the line of scrimmage. However, the Vols were up by only three points, a lead they would cautiously take into the half.
"(Penn State Head Coach Joe Paterno) gave us a speech at half time," remembered McDuffie. "Saying 'we haven't done anything right, they've been moving the ball up and down the field and we're only down three points. They haven't done anything we haven't seen before.' I think that pretty much fueled us going into the second half. We were happy about (being down) 10-7."
Happy, maybe, but the third quarter saw more Volunteer dominance, as Kelly hit Cory Fleming on a 44-yard pass that the eventual 49er/Cowboy took into the end zone to put the Vols up 17-7.
"Personally, there was a little concern on my part," reflected McDuffie. "You get down by too many points to this team, it could get ugly."
At this point, Penn State's impending doom appeared imminent ? to everyone except the Lions.
Later in the third quarter, the Vols were forced to punt. McDuffie received the kick and carted it 39 yards to the Tennessee 35-yard line, giving Penn State the spark it needed. On the ensuing drive, Sacca completed his first pass in nine attempts to McDuffie for a 28-yard gain. On the following play, he found Chip LaBarca on a 3-yard toss into the end zone to return the deficit to a mere three points.
"After that, I started to see a lot of confidence in our guys, something we didn't have the whole game," McDuffie said. "We knew going in (to the game) that we had a good chance (of winning), but once things started going bad for us, we didn't have that confidence, that swagger."
That swagger quickly turned into a funeral procession for the Volunteers. The ensuing kickoff only served to feed the beast within the Lions.
"Dale Carter took the kick," recalled McDuffie. "And I remember our whole team just gang tackling him down there, and everybody was all excited and pumped up about it."
On the subsequent Vol drive, Kelly dropped back to pass, but was met ungraciously by a charging Tyoka Jackson, who forced a fumble at the Tennessee 13-yard line. It took only one play for tight end Kyle Brady to take a Sacca pass over the goal line, and for the Lions to take the lead, 21-17.
On the next Volunteer possession, Penn State linebacker Reggie Givens intercepted a Kelly strike. Moments later, Penn State running back Richie Anderson ran the ball in from two yards out to put Penn State up 28-17.
Things didn't get any prettier. The third Tennessee possession in nearly as many minutes saw its third turnover in as much time. Kelly dropped back to pass, and was greeted brusquely by Derek Bochna with a thunderous shot that sent the football into the hands of Givens, who escorted it 23 yards into the end zone for Penn State's fifth touchdown.
Before McDuffie and the Lions knew what happened, they were up 35-17.
"It was amazing," said last year's NFL leader in receptions. "We felt invincible at that point. The way we scored on them with the pass to Chip, Reggie with his interception return. We felt they couldn't do anything right at that point. I think they felt like they where whupped at that point."
Whupped, indeed. On the ensuing possession, Tennessee was happy simply to go three-and-out, rather than forfeiting another turnover.
Shortly thereafter, Sacca hooked up with McDuffie for a 37-yard scoring strike to seal the game.
"I told (the coaches) that I saw (Tennessee cornerback Jeremy Lincoln) hurt his ankle," evoked McDuffie, the game's offensive MVP. "So, we tried to take advantage of that situation."
Though the beating was harsh, don't be too quick to sympathize with the Volunteers, who may have gotten what they deserved, as McDuffie explained.
"We all got together for this big barbecue cookout (during the week before the game)," said McDuffie. "And the way Carl Pickens got up on the mic, basically saying 'yeah, you guys are here, but we're really the best team here,' we knew right then that they thought we couldn't play with them."
By game's end, there was no question whether the Lions could "play with them," leaving Pickens to eat more than just barbecue.