After a stumbling start, Penn State hits its stride Lions, Florida State set for Blockbuster

THE BALTIMORE SUN

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- When Penn State University lost its first two games of the season to Texas and the University of Southern California, Nittany Lions senior inside linebacker Keith Goganious saw a team that was on the brink of collapse.

But he still found reason to smile.

"Well, it's like death and taxes," said Goganious. "You know every four or five years Penn State is going to be ranked nationally in the top five or challenge for the national title. This is our fourth season since the school won the national championship in the 1985-86 season. I knew we were due."

In truth, it would take divine intervention for No. 7 Penn State (9-2) to end up No. 1. First, the Nittany Lions would have to upset No. 6 Florida State (9-2) in tonight's Blockbuster Bowl (8 o'clock) at Miami's Joe Robbie Stadium.

Then Penn State would have to rely on fifth-ranked Notre Dame (9-2) to upset No. 1 Colorado (10-1-1) in the Federal Express Orange Bowl, No. 19 Nebraska (9-2) to beat No 2. Georgia Tech (10-0-1) in the Florida Citrus Bowl and No. 4 Miami (9-2) to defeat No. 3 Texas (10-1) in the Mobil Cotton Bowl, all on New Year's Day.

"If Georgia Tech and Texas lose, and if we beat Florida State, I'll probably sound like Sam Jankovich [Miami's athletic director] and say we deserve to be No. 1," said Paterno, in his 25th year as Penn State's head coach. "I can't believe there's a better football team in the country than Florida State."

Goganious said: "We're a little ticked that we beat Notre Dame and they are still ahead of us in the rankings. If we don't get a national championship this year, we're going to get even better next year. Penn State has arrived."

True, but slowly. Since that 12-0 national championship campaign in the 1986 season, the Nittany Lions went 8-4, 5-6 and 8-3-1.

"Happy Valley wasn't so happy when we went 5-6," said Penn State senior safety Willie Thomas. "What's the old saying? You're only as good as your last game. In our case, we were only as good as our last national championship. Overall, Penn State fans understand the system."

The system?

"When Coach Paterno recruits, he tells every player that they will get at least one shot at the national title," said Goganious. "And it always happens."

Penn State opened its season with a 17-13 loss to Texas, followed by a 19-14 setback to Southern Cal. Losing to two nationally ranked teams by nine total points may be good for some teams, but not for Penn State.

Paterno took some of the blame for the slow start, saying he wanted to get in a game before going to Southern Cal. He had moved the Texas game from Sept. 29 to Sept. 8.

"I thought we could handle Texas," said Paterno.

But the players -- 36 of the 44 players on the two-deep roster are underclassmen -- offered no alibis. They held a meeting the day after the Texas game.

"We all had to get focused," said defensive tackle Frank Giannetti. "Guys were down and we didn't know what to do. We decided to work harder than we ever did. We decided to do all the little things that added up to big things. We all said we were going to go out and win nine games in a row."

And so they did, including a 24-21 shocker of then-No. 1 Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., on Nov. 17. Penn State now has the longest Division I-A winning streak in the country, and tons of confidence.

"We are the hottest team in America," said Goganious.

The statement has merit. Paterno still turns the cuff up on his pants up, and his team still wears those drab blue and white uniforms with no-frills black cleats. This team, like his best ones, has great defense, a solid kicking game and a conservative offense.

If those teams were of national championship caliber, they had a quarterback who could do a little more than just take a snap and hand off to a tailback.

Enter junior quarterback Tony Sacca, who after a midseason slump this year, has been superb down the stretch. Sacca completed 122 of 249 passes for 1,866 yards during the regular season, including a career high of 277 yards against Notre Dame and 113 yards rushing against Pittsburgh in the Nittany Lions' last two games.

"It's a typical Penn State linebacking group in the sense that they are fundamentally sound and they come to maul you," said Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, a close friend of Paterno's.

Tonight's coaching matchup pits Paterno, one college's best defensive coaches, against one of the nation's best innovators, Bowden.

Blockbuster Bowl

Rosters

Penn State

Head coach: Joe Paterno

No. Player P Ht. Wt. Year

1 Tisen Thomas CB 5-8 158 So

2 Henry Adkins K 5-9 156 Sr

3 Chip LaBarca WR 5-9 177 So

4 Doug Helkowski P 6-0 204 Jr

4 Ben Nichols P 5-9 171 So

5 Bobby Samuels TB 5-11 190 Jr

6 Leonard Humphries DB 5-9 170 Jr

7 Rich Rosa WR 6-1 188 Jr

8 Terry Smith WR 5-8 155 Sr

9 Darren Perry SS 5-10 186 Sr

9 Bill Spoor WR 6-1 191 Jr

10 Corey Jett QB 5-11 195 Sr

11 Sam Gash FB 6-0 225 Sr

12 Tom Bill QB 6-2 210 Sr

13 Jason Gigliotti QB 6-0 190 So

13 Matt Baggett LB 6-1 210 Sr

14 Jamie Dreese P 5-10 189 So

14 John Lucas QB 6-6 1/2 215 Jr

15 Frank Yeboah-Kodie CB 5-11 180 So

15 John Van Allen K 5-10 174 So

16 V.J. Muscillo K 5-8 185 So

17 Mark Graham CB 5-9 170 So

18 Chris Ingraham P 5-11 170 So

18 Troy Drayton WR 6-3 213 So

19 Tony Sacca QB 6-4 218 Jr

20 Richie Anderson TB 6-1 210 So LLTC 21 Shelton Hammonds TB 5-10 185 So

22 Matt Nardolillo QB 6-1 205 Jr

23 Gerry Collins TB 5-8 181 Sr

23 Greg Fusetti CB 6-0 185 Sr

24 O.J. McDuffie WR 5-11 186 Jr

25 Willie Thomas CB 5-10 180 Sr

26 David Daniels WR 6-1 191 Sr

27 Gary Brown FB 5-11 208 Sr

28 Phil Yeboah-Kodie LB 6-1 198 Fr

29 Brian O'Neal FB 6-1 224 So

30 Dan Skrip WR 5-11 187 Jr

31 Greg Filkovski FB 6-0 213 So

33 Brian Moser FB 6-1 225 So

34 John McNulty FB 5-10 184 So

35 Mike Smith S 6-1 193 Sr

35 Bob Oakes FB 5-10 196 Jr

36 Brian Monaghan S 6-2 225 So

37 Ivory Gethers LB 6-1 211 So

38 Mark D'Onofrio LB 6-2 230 Sr

39 Lee Rubin S 5-9 184 Sr

40 Hernon Henderson CB 5-11 189 Sr

42 Keith Goganious LB 6-3 232 Sr

43 Scott Davidheiser TB 5-11 197 Jr

44 John Lucas QB 6-0 181 Fr

44 Leroy Thompson TB 5-10 207 Sr

45 Brian Kurlej FB 5-11 197 So

46 Gregg Norton WR 5-10 188 Jr

47 Brett Wright LB 6-1 223 Jr

48 Chris Cisar SS 6-0 194 Jr

49 Bob Daman FB 6-2 210 Jr

50 Mark Lawn KS 6-0 213 So

51 Chris Mazyck NT 6-3 264 So

53 Rob Luedeke C 6-5 265 Sr

55 Lou Benfatti T 6-3 270 So

55 Dave Brzenchek G 6-3 259 Jr

56 Ronald Fields LB 6-1 222 Jr

56 Mac Gallagher C 6-3 245 Sr

57 Sean Love G 6-3 260 Sr

58 Mike Heller G 6-1 253 Jr

58 Reggie Givens DB 5-11 218 So

59 Tony Matesic DT 6-2 270 Jr

61 Mike Flanagan G 6-3 270 Sr

62 Jerrod Vance G 6-1 265 Sr

64 Matt McCartin T 6-5 274 Sr

65 Pat Duffy T 6-1 275 Sr

66 Greg Huntington T 6-3 265 Jr

67 Todd Burger DT 6-2 269 Jr

68 Mark Flythe DT 6-6 295 Sr

69 Derick Pickett NT 6-5 263 So

70 Gene Duffy SR 6-4 259 Sr

71 Todd Rucci T 6-5 285 Sr

72 Jim Deter NT 6-2 265 Sr

73 Sean Moffitt G 6-2 267 Jr

74 Brian Dozier T 6-2 290 Sr

75 Tom Prawdzik T 6-2 272 So

76 Paul Siever T 6-4 271 Sr

77 E.J. Sandusky T 6-4 1/2 242 Jr

79 Mike Malinoski DT 6-2 1/2 270 Sr

80 John Gerak TE 6-4 250 Sr

81 Jason Oakman LB 6-4 1/2 222 Sr

82 Rob Ruslavage LB 6-1 217 Sr

83 Rick Sayles TE 6-4 215 Jr

84 Rudy Glocker TE 6-5 230 Jr

84 Pat Irwin LB 6-2 217 Jr

85 Frank Giannetti DT 6-2 255 Sr

86 Jeff Anderson TE 6-3 230 Jr

87 Todd Jessup WR 5-10 165 So

88 Eric Renkey NT 6-2 280 Jr

89 Al Golden TE 6-2 242 Sr

91 George Kidwell LB 6-2 215 Sr

93 Tom Wade LB 6-2 250 So

94 Eric Ravotti LB 6-2 234 So

95 Andre Powell LB 6-1 228 Jr

96 Ryan Grube LB 6-4 227 So

97 Tyoka Jackson DT 6-2 250 So

97 Jeff Vanderbush TE 6-4 190 So

98 George Astle LB 6-1 230 So

99 Rich McKenzie LB 6-2 230 Sr

Florida State

Head coach: Bobby Bowden

No. Player P Ht. Wt. Year

1 Shannon Baker WR 5-10 180 So

2 Clifton Abraham DB 5-9 180 Fr

3 Leon Fowler FS 6-2 196 So

4 Chris Weinke QB 6-5 202 Fr

5 Kenny Felder QB 6-3 215 So

6 Grady Ross LB 6-0 211 Sr

6 Steve Gilmer DB 5-11 185 Fr

7 Eric Turral WR 5-11 180 So

8 Corey Sawyer DB 5-10 160 Fr

9 Richie Andrews KS 5-11 165 Sr

9 Dan Mowrey KS 5-10 165 Fr

10 Corian Freeman LB 6-3 221 Sr

11 Casey Weldon QB 6-1 194 Jr

12 Matt Frier WR 5-10 187 Fr

13 Mack Knight CB 5-1 197 Fr

14 Brad Johnson QB 6-6 205 Jr

15 Bill Ragans SS 6-2 206 Sr

16 Richard Coes DB 6-0 197 So

17 Charlie Ward QB 6-1 189 So

18 John Davis DB 6-2 205 So

19 John Wimberly P 6-2 205 So

20 Clyde Allen RB 5-11 190 Fr

21 Maurice Pinckney FB 6-0 209 So

22 Edgar Bennett FB 6-1 222 Jr

23 Bryce Abbott SS 6-0 215 So

24 Felix Harris CB 6-1 206 Jr

26 Errol McCorvey CB 6-0 183 Jr

27 Terrell Buckley CB 5-10 175 So

28 Corey Fuller DB 6-1 190 Fr

29 Lawrence Dawsey WR 6-1 195 Sr

30 Omar Ellison RB 6-2 200 Fr

31 Lavon Brown FS 5-11 200 So

32 Paul Moore FB 6-1 245 Jr

33 Sam McMillon RB 5-10 185 Fr

33 David Dees FS 6-1 204 So

35 Chris Parker TB 6-2 221 Jr

36 Kelvin Smith LB 6-0 235 Sr

36 Kevin Adams LB 6-1 215 Fr

37 Sean Jackson RB 6-2 220 Fr

38 David Bassett SS 5-11 200 Sr

39 Ed Clark LB 6-3 230 Fr

40 David Stallworth LB 6-2 230 So

41 Tommy Henry CB 6-0 170 So

42 Amp Lee RB 6-0 195 So

43 Bill Mason KS 5-10 155 Sr

44 John Wyche SS 6-1 200 Sr

45 Kirk Carruthers LB 6-2 212 Jr

46 Philip King LB 6-1 220 Fr

47 William Floyd RB 6-2 220 Fr

48 Willie Pauldo LB 6-2 218 Fr

49 Jason Peirce LB 6-3 212 So

51 Robbie Baker C 6-3 240 So

52 Robert Stevenson OG 6-3 272 So

53 Dulack Guerrier LB 6-3 230 Fr

54 Scott Player P 5-10 175 Jr

55 Marvin Jones LB 6-2 220 Fr

55 Sterling Palmer LB 6-7 257 Fr

56 Matt Ferguson OG 6-3 258 Sr

57 John Nance LB 6-2 250 So

58 Dan Footman LB 6-5 255 Jr

59 Ken Alexander LB 6-3 240 Fr

60 Mike Morris OG 6-2 287 Jr

61 Eric Gibbs OL 6-4 295 So

62 Troy Sanders NG 6-2 272 So

63 Jason Dillaberry OT 6-5 272 So

64 Robert Williams DT 6-2 270 Sr

65 Hayward Haynes OG 6-3 278 Sr

66 Scott Schilbrack OT 6-8 288 Sr

67 Kevin Mancini OT 6-3 272 Jr

68 John Flath C 6-4 256 So

69 Patrick McNeil OL 6-3 275 Fr

72 Steve Allen DL 6-6 285 Fr

73 Reggie Dixon OG 6-2 278 Jr

74 Henry Ostaszewski DT 6-3 260 Jr

75 Joe Ostaszewski DT 6-3 262 Jr

76 Eric McGill OT 6-5 253 So

77 Eric Luallen C 6-3 284 Jr

78 Johnny Clower TE 6-4 265 Sr

79 Gene Houpe DS 6-3 270 Jr

80 Reggie Johnson TE 6-2 252 Sr

80 Lonnie Johnson DL 6-3 220 Fr

81 Kevin Knox WR 6-4 193 So

82 Brad Lundstrom LB 6-3 228 So

83 Dave Roberts TE 6-4 238 Sr

85 John Donaldson TE 6-4 240 Fr

84 Warren Hart TE 6-2 260 Fr

85 Eric Smith LB 5-11 210 Fr

86 Marvin Ferrell TE 6-6 243 Fr

87 Tommy Fagan LB 6-5 228 Fr

88 Kez McCorvey WR 6-1 180 Fr

89 Howard Dinkins LB 6-2 220 Jr

90 Billy Glenn TE 6-4 245 Fr

90 Scottie McLaren P 6-2 197 So

91 Deondri Clark DT 6-2 250 So

92 James Roberson LB 6-3 225 Fr

93 Chris Cowart LB 6-3 215 Fr

94 Toddrick McIntosh DT 6-3 255 Fr

95 Carl Simpson TE 6-2 262 So

96 James Chaney NG 5-11 250 Jr

97 Reggie Freeman LB 6-1 236 So

98 Oliver Strickland DT 6-3 267 So

99 Anthony Moss LB 6-4 240 Sr

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