Every program has those games that live on forever in its lore and are forever fondly remembered and relived by its fanbase. Penn State fans are fortunate to have a long list of these games- 1981 vs. Pitt, the 1987 Fiesta Bowl, 2005 vs. Ohio State- the list can go on and on. Hidden Gems will focus on games that may not have the same prestige as those games, but certainly were memorable in some way or another and are an important part of the overall composition of Penn State sports.
The 2007 Alamo Bowl was the end of an era, although, if you look back, it really wasn't. More on that in a bit.
After a 2006 season that ended with a bowl win over Tennessee, the Nittany Lions came into 2007 ranked #18 in the preseason with high hopes for the coming year as senior Anthony Morelli had a year of starting experience under his belt and guys like Sean Lee, Dan Connor and Justin King were leading a dominant defense as was what you got from all Penn State teams. The season started off well enough with blowout wins over Florida International, Notre Dame and Buffalo, but a mid-season streak of losses to Michigan (where the offense could only muster three field goals) and Illinois (who beat a ranked team for the first time in six years) showed that there were flaws, especially at the quarterback position, that would keep this team from having a big year. A loss to #1 Ohio State at home coupled with a Michigan State 17-point comeback in the season finale left Penn State with an 8-4 record and a berth in the Alamo Bowl against a Texas A&M team they beat in the same bowl eight years earlier in a certain defensive coordinator's final game with the Lions. /ducks
The Aggies had the unfortunate task of playing in a deep Big 12 in 2007, the year you may remember as being the one-and-done emergence of Kansas as a national title contender and a Chase Daniel Missouri team being #1 and on their way to the title game before being blown out by Oklahoma in the conference championship game. 2007 was really weird, you guys. After starting 5-1, A&M would drop four of their next six, but ride the wave of momentum they gained by beating Texas on Thanksgiving into San Antonio.
Things didn't start off great for Penn State in Joe Paterno's 500th game as head coach. They gave up 14 early points on a couple of touchdown runs, the second coming after a muffed kickoff return by A.J. Wallace. But a Morelli pass to Deon Butler and an 11-yard touchdown run from backup quarterback Darryl Clark tied the game midway through the second quarter. The teams would trade field goals and freshman Evan Royster would put the game away with a 38-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter to give Paterno his 23rd bowl win, a 24-17 victory over the Aggies.
I remember this game vividly because I missed the Morelli touchdown pass and say the replay of the Clark touchdown because I was home on Christmas break with a bunch of friends who wanted to watch the Patriots-Giants regular season finale which set up the rematch in the Super Bowl and 18-1 HAHAHAHAHAHAHA and then it didn't matter because I was still a Bills fan :/
The game marked the end of what has now come to be called the QB14 era. Morelli left Penn State holding numerous passing records and two bowl wins as a starting quarterback to his credit. But, he will always be thought of as the goof would couldn't make the big play or win the big game, which is deserved when looking at his career. I remember specifically turning off the TV after his third interception against Illinois and closing my eyes during his runs against Ohio State in Beaver Stadium in my first year as a student.
BUT, was it really the end of an era? Morelli's lack of a big-game instinct has stuck with him to this day while his successor, Darryl Clark, is one of the most beloved figures in recent Penn State memory. But in big games (i.e. games against ranked teams, bowl games and night games), the two's records are:
Anthony Morelli: 3-5 (2 bowl wins, 3 blowout losses)
Darryl Clark: 4-4* (1 bowl win, 3 blowout losses)
*includes Iowa games from 2008 and 2009
Is there really much of a difference between the two in a "clutch" sense? Yes, Morelli had flops in games that didn't mean as much which is most of the reason why he gets the rap that he does, but in terms of being a big-time performer, there's really not much of a difference. Add in that Clark's performances against Iowa in 2008 ended a national championship run and in 2009 killed what could have been a second straight year holding a share of the Big Ten title and heading to a BCS bowl, the gap between the two shrinks even further.
You put Morelli in today's system and he's one of the top two or three quarterbacks in the Big Ten. But he had to work under JayPa and Galen Hall with nothing like the Spread HD offense to help utilize his talents well. A few years too late, kid.
But yeah, Penn State over Texas A&M, 24-17 which lead to a successful 2008 campaign and, in my eyes, not the end to the era that we thought had ceased is a Hidden Gem in my book.
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