It hadn’t happened in 29 years—a Penn State football game without Coach Joe Paterno pacing the sidelines.
“It wasn’t right without him being there,” said defensive coordinator Tom Bradley about the head coach with the longest tenure in Division I football.
“You could definitely tell something was missing,” said co-captain Paul Posluszny about the veteran mentor’s absence from the Lions, 47-0 victory over Temple Saturday.
“He wasn’t there to yell at me when I missed a block,” smiled co-captain Levi Brown about the man who has noticed every detail of every Nittany Lion’s performance for the last 41 years.
But Brown also tightly clutched the game ball that he and Posluszny were taking to the modest neighborhood residence, where Joe Paterno had watched the game on television while keeping elevated the broken leg and injured knee that had been surgically repaired, after he was knocked down in last week’s game at Wisconsin, when Badger linebacker DeAndre Levy tackled Penn State tight end Andrew Quarless into him along the sidelines.
After getting out of the hospital Friday night, Paterno talked to his team in the locker room via speaker phone before Saturday afternoon’s encounter with the visiting Owls, wishing them good luck and telling them he loved them.
Signs, banners and painted torsos throughout the student section proclaimed “Get Well Joe,” “Do It for Joe,” “After 41 Years JoePa Can Still Take a Hit,” and “Roll Up Your Pant Legs for JoePa.”
The players certainly did their part, rolling up 411 yards and a season-high 47 points, while limiting Temple to a record low 74 yards and two first downs and posting their second shutout in three weeks. The Lions never allowed the visitors to cross midfield in the most dominating defensive effort of the Paterno era.
State scored as many points in the first three quarters as it had in the last three games and won its 46th of 57 non-conference contests since joining the Big Ten in 1993. The 21 points tallied in the first quarter were only eight less than the usually slow-starting Lions had scored in the initial frame of their first 10 games.
Senior tailback Tony Hunt ran for a career-high 167 yards on just 16 carries and a career-high 192 all-purpose yards, while becoming the first Nittany Lion since Larry Johnson in 2002 to score four touchdowns in a game. Three of Tony’s TDs came on runs of 22, 26 and 11 yards in the first half. The fourth was on a screen pass of 11 yards from Anthony Morelli in the middle of the third quarter, after which he retired for the day and watched Rodney Kinlaw and Nick Pinchek play his position.
Before sitting down, however, he had reached a total of 1,098 rushing yards for the year to make him just the fifth Nittany Lion to amass two consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons and join the career 3,000-yard rushing club. (John Cappelletti, Curt Warner, Ki-Jana Carter and Curtis Enis posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, while Warner, D. J. Dozier, Blair Thomas and Enis ran for more than 3,000 yards. Thomas exceeded 1,000 yards in 1987 and ‘89 but missed the ‘88 season with a knee injury. Cappelletti only played offense for two years.)
All-American linebacker Paul Posluszny led the team in tackles and became the first Nittany Lion to ever post three seasons of 100 tackles or more. The man who last week passed Greg Buttle as the all-time tackle leader had 104 in 2004 and 116 in 2005 and increased his total to 356. He was named last week as one of four finalists for the Lombardi Trophy and thus became Penn State’s first two-time finalist for this prestigious award. The holder of a record five Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors, the 2005 Butkus and Bednarik Award winner is also a semifinalist for those awards again. The Lions’ first two-time captain since Mike Reid and Steve Smear in 1968 and ’69, Pos has already been selected as a National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame Scholar-Athlete and received an $18,000 post-graduate scholarship.
Junior linebacker Dan Connor increased his tackle total to 96 and raised the possibility that Penn State could have two players with more than 100 tackles for the first time since Andre Collins and Brian Chizmar in 1989. Connor’s three-year tackle total of 257 ties him with Collins for eighth place on State’s career chart.
Mother Nature has not been kind to Penn State football fans this fall, and the 105,950 in Beaver Stadium Saturday had to again sit through a constant rain. A fantastic fall Friday gradually dissipated Saturday morning until the precipitation put an early end to late season tailgates an hour and a quarter before the 3:30 kickoff for ESPN regional television.
But the rain didn’t dampen the Nittany Lions’ desire to win one for the gimpy coach, who was missing only his third Penn State game in 56 years. A member of the coaching staff for 641 of the 1,164 games in Penn State’s 120-year gridiron history, Paterno had previously missed only the game at Army in 1955 when his father, Angelo, died, and the game at Syracuse in 1977 when his son, David, was in a coma following a tragic trampoline accident. He had not missed any of the last 318 home games.
Although quarterback Anthony Morelli threw his first pass of the day into the arms of Temple cornerback David Reese, the Lions got the ball back on the very next play, when Posluszny forced a fumble on Temple’s first play from scrimmage and defensive end Tim Shaw jumped on it at the TU-48. Morelli rifled his next pass to tight end Andrew Quarless for a 29-yard gain down the middle, and Hunt followed the blocks of Matt Hahn, Levi Brown and Robert Price through the left side for a 22-yard touchdown run in the fourth minute of the game.
Temple’s new head coach Al Golden, Penn State’s starting tight end in 1991 and ’92 and linebacker coach and recruiting coordinator in 2000, made a gutsy call on the Owls’ next possession. On 4th-and-seven at the TU-36, he called a fake punt. Jason Harper’s wounded duck pass was caught by Reese, but State’s Lydell Sargeant had time to recover and make the tackle half a yard short of the first down marker.
From there Hunt ripped through the left side on successive carries for 16 yards and 26 yards, cutting off BranDon Snow’s block and reaching the ball just inside the pylon for his second TD within two-and-a-half minutes.
After Temple’s next three-play possession, Golden called for the Owl’s first punt on 4th-and-eight. State sophomore Derrick Williams hauled in the deep kick on the PS-25, started to his right, spun back to his left, slipped a couple of tackles and got a final screening block by Willie Harriott as he raced 75 yards for his first touchdown on a punt return. (It was first for Penn State since Bryant Johnson took one 81 yards to the house against Michigan State in 2002.)
And, as the precipitation slowed momentarily to a drizzle, a magnificent rainbow arched across Mount Nittany.
At the beginning of the second quarter, the Lions actually got into the Red Zone for the first time. But, when Quarless was forced out of bounds on the TU-2 after a third-down catch, Penn State had to settle for a 19-yard field goal by Kevin Kelly.
As the first half wound down, the Lion offense executed its two-minute drill to perfection, moving 77 yards in eight plays in a minute and a half to score its fourth touchdown just 33 seconds before halftime. Hunt sparked the drive with a 20-yard run, followed three plays later by a 15-yard burst on third-and-one. After a personal foul penalty cost the Lions 15 yards, Morelli passed to Brendan Perretta for 23 yards, then shoveled the ball to Hunt for 14 more. After a timeout and an incomplete pass, Hunt stutter stepped the final 11 yards through the Owl defense to his third TD.
On its first possession of the second half, State moved 54 yards to paydirt, as Morelli passed eight yards to Matt Hahn on a 3rd-and-four and 12 yards to Jordan Norwood on a 4th-and-four, before climaxing the drive with a screen pass that Hunt took 11 yards, after a clearing block by center A.Q. Shipley, for his third receiving touchdown of the year.
Two Temple plays later, defensive tackle Jay Alford forced a fumble, which he also recovered on the TU-9. After the second team Lion offense lost seven yards, Kelly kicked his 19th field goal of the year—a 33-yarder.
Penn State’s reserves did score a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, when Kinlaw rushed for 12 and 15 yards, QB Darryl Clark threw a 23-yard pass to tight end Kevin Darling and finally rushed the last yard for his third TD of the season.
Struggling through his first season as a head coach, Golden, who spent the last five years as defensive coordinator at Virginia, found his return to Penn State to be bittersweet. “It’s great to see so many people who impacted my life. This is obviously a special place for my family and me. I got married here,” said the man whose wife gave birth to a baby girl on Tuesday. “There are a lot of emotions in coming back. I feel bad that I couldn’t give the crowd a better game. All the things that I learned at Penn State, such as character and academics and being involved in the community are going to help us immensely once we get enough players to be bigger and stronger.”
Saturday was a homecoming for three other Temple coaches—defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio, who was a linebacker and co-captain along with Golden in 1991, plus running backs coach Jeff Nixon and linebacker coach Matt Rhule, who both played with current Lion wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Mike McQueary at Penn State and State College High School.
Next Saturday will be the last visit to Beaver Stadium of John L. Smith as the coach of Michigan State—a team that was 3-0 with a 17-point fourth-quarter lead over Notre Dame before collapsing earlier this season. However, the 4-7 Spartans had the talent to pull off the biggest comeback in Division I-A history when they scored 38 unanswered points at Northwestern, and the Lions have to guard against their desire to win the finale for their recently fired coach.
For the glory,