Some of you may have heard that Penn State has a big game this weekend. Alabama is the #1 ranked team in the country and nobody is giving the Nittany Lions a chance to even keep the score within a touchdown. So to have a little fun and show you all that sometimes the "experts" get it wrong and miracles do sometimes happen, we're going to highlight my top five upsets of all time. Today we will start with the 1994 Citrus Bowl.
The 1993 season was Penn State's first season in the Big Ten. By most accounts a 9-2 regular season would be considered a success, but the Nittany Lions were welcomed to the league with a 21-13 thumping at Michigan and a 24-6 beatdown at the hands of the Buckeyes. The lone bright spots were a 21-20 win over USC and a 38-31 victory over the 8-4 Hoosiers of Indiana. But 9-2 was still a good year, and as a result the 13th ranked Nittany Lions were invited to play the sixth ranked Volunteers of Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl on New Year's Day.
From the day the bowl selections were announced, the Vols made it perfectly clear that they were not pleased with their draw of opponent. Tennessee was 9-1-1 and would have been playing in the Sugar Bowl if it wasn't for an early season loss to Florida. But they were happy to get the chance at revenge for the 42-17 pounding they took at the hands of the Lions two years earlier in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Vols had an unbelievable offense that scored 43 points per game powered by all-star quarterback Heath Shuler who was the Heisman Trophy runner-up that season. Tennessee was immediately listed as a ten point favorite, and Joe Paterno publicly mused he was surprised it wasn't higher. The media didn't think the Lions were a worthy opponent for the Vols who were stacked with NFL talent at nearly every position.
But the Vols didn't realize they were about to play a gathering storm of offensive talent. Quarterback Kerry Collins, running back Ki-Jana Carter, tight end Kyle Brady, offensive linemen Jeff Hartings and Marco Rivera, and wide receivers Bobby Engram and Freddie Scott formed the nucleus of players that would go on to storm through the 1994 season destroying everything in their path.
Tennessee jumped out to a fast 10-0 lead with a 46 yard field goal and a 19-yard TD pass from Shuler to Cory Fleming. The Citrus Bowl record crowd of over 72,000 of mostly Orange sang along to Rocky Top as it appeared the rout was on. But on second down from their own 36 yard line, Collins hit Engram on a wide receiver screen over the middle. Engram picked up a block and outran the defenders down the the UT 29-yard line.
"That play set the tone," Engram said after the game. "They saw we had some speed after all, and you could just see it in their eyes they weren't sure they could stop us."
State went on to finish the drive making it 7-10 on a 3 yard TD run by Carter, who had been sitting out with a knee injury since the Illinois game.
Tennesse responded with an impressive drive down to the PSU 28-yard line where linebacker Tyoka Jackson tipped a ball in the air, and safety Lee Rubin intercepted it at the 13-yard line. This was as close as Tennessee would come to the goal line the rest of the day.
Craig Fayak hit a field goal later to tie it, and Tennessee responded with a 50-yarder of their own to take a 13-10 lead. With 1:08 to go in the half, Collins moved the ball down the field with a 12 yard draw play to Mke Archie and an 18 yard pass to Engram. With 10 seconds to go at the UT 14 yard line, Penn State called their final timeout. Everyone expected Joe Paterno to elect for the field goal, but to their amazement the offense went back out on the field. Tennessee sat back in pass defense expecting the Lions to take a shot at the endzone, but Paterno called a draw play to Carter instead. Carter broke a tackle at the line and sprinted into the endzone to give the Lions the 17-13 lead at halftime. More importantly, they sent a clear message for the Vols to think about over halftime: We can do anything we want to do, and there is nothing you can do to stop it.
In the halftime locker room, Paterno sent his team a message that they were not even close to letting up.
"Who do they think they are, telling us they need a better opponent," Paterno yelled. "I'm tired of this Orange team! I'm tired of this Orange Stadium! I'm tired of seeing Orange! Let's go out there and kick the Orange out of them!"
Penn State took the second half kickoff and marched 60 yards, and Collins hit Brady wide open in the endzone to make it 24-13. Engram later added a 15-yard TD catch, and the defense shut out the Vols while sacking Shuler four times. The final score was Penn State 31, Tennessee 13.
After the game, Collins let it be known he and his team was irritated by the lack of respect for Penn State in the pregame media coverage.
"We heard all week about Heath Shuler and everybody was underestimating us, "Collins said. "We thought all along that we were the better team. All we had to do was come out and prove it."
Paterno later added, "We never thought Tennessee was better than us."
(Hat Tip to the amazing Penn State Football Encylcopedia by Lou Prato.)