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Penn State's Greatest Games Of The Big Ten Era - 1999 Arizona

BSD is chronicling 15 of Penn State's best games since joining the Big Ten in 1993. For more on the series, click here. Today, Jtothep & Lou Prato talk about Penn State's blowout victory against Arizona in 1999.

With the Outback Bowl victory over Kentucky on January 1, Penn State wrapped up the 1998 season at 9-3. It was a decent finish for the young squad, which dropped games to #1 Ohio State, #22 Michigan and #13 Wisconsin, good for 4th place behind those three. In point of fact it was about par for the course in Penn State's 6-year history in the Big Ten, during which they went 36-12 and finished 3rd, 1st, 3rd, 3rd, 3rd and 4th. In those first six years, they dropped four games to Ohio State, three to Michigan, two to Wisconsin and one each to Northwestern, Iowa and Michigan State. In short, Penn State competed, but was pretty damn far away from dominating.

1999 was a weird year. Like, for all of us. With the Millennium approaching, many of us were very interested in partying like it was 1999, even if we could no longer pronounce Prince logo.svg 's name. Y2K was a real software problem at the time, although many countries were able to successfully address it. The internet had picked up quite a bit since Al Gore invented it earlier that decade, email was becoming more widespread, networking companies were working feverishly to lay more pipe (weren't we all?) and Silicon Valley was booming with spectacular failures and legitimate successes. But broadband availability was not yet widespread and Blogistan was still in its infancy.

In the college football arena, Tee Martin had just led Tennessee to the inaugural BCS MNC over one of the last of Bobby Bowden's great Florida State teams (which won the MNC the following year), Jim Tressel was visiting sick children in Youngstown and Ted Sarniak was befriending a then 10-year-old Terrelle Pryor.  But at home in State College, things were looking interesting. Penn State was returning a number of talented players, including almost their entire defense, a senior quarterback, three fifths of their offensive line (which still ended up with position juggles, natch), one very fine receiver, and a stable of running backs. And when it was announced in January that they would host the Arizona Wildcats that August in the Pigskin Classic, things got very interesting indeed.

Arizona was returning 17 starters of their own and had just defeated Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl to finish a best-ever 12-1 and at #4 in both final polls. Coming into the game, Penn State was ranked #3 and Arizona #4 and the two had never met on the field before. Arizona coach Dick Tomey had built a reputation of defensive toughness in the desert and the Wildcat defense was dubbed 'Desert Swarm.' On offense, Arizona was bringing in a quarterback tandem of Keith Smith and Ortege Jenkins, eventual All-American wide receiver Dennis Northcutt and the PAC 10's leading rusher and Heisman hopeful, Trung Canidate.

LOLOLOLOL Trung Canidate. Remember that guy? I remember a few Arizona fans who made the trek to Beaver Stadium sporting signs of 'HeisTrung Canidate.' Get it? Yeah, well, he didn't. Courtney Brown, Mac Morrison & Lavar Arrington made sure of that, holding him to 31 yards on 10 carries. In truth, he probably wasn't as preposterous a hopeful as our own Heisman candidate, who left this game with cramps (after making seven tackles), but who only had one against Akron the following week. But the defense did the job on this day and held Arizona to 356 total yards and only lost the shutout with 47 seconds left to play.

On the other side of the ball, Kevin Thompson put a number of anxieties at ease, at least for a week, as he and Rashard Casey and the offense rolled up 504 total yards on only 19 first downs and scored touchdowns on four first half drives. Nine different runners carried the ball, including redshirt freshman Larry Johnson and fifth year seniors Cordell Mitchell and Aaron Harris. Raise your hand if you miss Aaron Harris. Here, watch this to see video of the guy; even in post-rehab form he was smooth and powerful. (Warning to Lavar Lovers & Derek Fox Haters: link contains video evidence of Arrington overpursuit / being out of position / missing opportunities for big plays, and includes a fine sack by Fox on a safety blitz (3:34). If you look closely, you may also spot a young Gino Capone running out of the tunnel!):

The offensive line, led by senior interior lineman Eric Cole, opened mammoth holes for the running back stable, such that Penn State rushed 44 times for 262 yards. The final score was 41-7.

It was a beautiful day. Penn State put a whuppin on a Top-5 team on national television and the Beaver Stadium patrons were treated to a warm & sunny show. I remember enjoying all the warm fuzzies that come with attending and witnessing such a performance. Let's see what Lou remembers:

There are just two things I truly remember about the game: it was hot—as could be expected on August 28 in Happy Valley—and Arizona stunk. Period and exclamation point. The crowd expected a thriller and what it got was another easy victory over a cupcake. Shades of Coastal Carolina. That made it a great day to relax while getting a suntan inside Beaver Stadium and a great day to tailgate afterwards. You can read about the details of the scoring elsewhere. I can’t remember one play but I do remember the Penn State defense was all over the Arizona offense and made their Heisman Trophy candidate, Trung Canidate, a non-candidate.  After the 41-7, whipping,  Arizona won six games of its next nine games, then lost the last three, while Penn State seemed headed to the national championship until that devastating last minute upset to Minnesota is one of the most heartbreaking defeats in history. I think Joe Paterno summed up the Arizona game best when he said after the game: " I don’t think this ball game proves anything."