One recurring theme you may have noticed ever since it was announced that Penn State would play in the Fiesta Bowl, is that the Nittany Lions have walked away from all six their trips to the Arizona desert victorious. While this will have virtually zero bearing on whether PSU defeats Washington to make it 7-0 in the Fiesta Bowl, we figured it would be appropriate to look back upon the program’s lush history of successes in this bowl game.
1977 (Penn State 42, Arizona State 30)
The Nittany Lions made their debut in the Fiesta Bowl on Christmas Day 1977 against Arizona State. The Lions struck quickly in the first quarter, as defensive end Bill Banks blocked an ASU punt and fellow defensive end Joe Lally scooped it up for a touchdown. This was followed by Chuck Fusina throwing a touchdown strike to Bob Torrey to put PSU up 14-0 at the end of the first quarter.
The Sun Devils would pitchfork their way back into the game with a pair of touchdowns of their own, to make it a 17-14 PSU lead at the half. However, touchdowns runs from Steve Geise and Joe Suhey gave PSU a 31-14 cushion early in the fourth quarter and the Lions never looked back, winning a 42-30 shootout..
1980 (Penn State 31, Ohio State 19)
This was the first of back-to-back Fiesta Bowl appearances for PSU. Curt Warner opened up the scoring on the game’s first play, scampering 64 yards to the end zone to give the Lions a 7-0 lead right off the bat. The Buckeyes led by quarterback Art Schlichter and his 15-of-22 passing for 244 yards and three touchdowns, would rack up 19 unanswered points to take a 19-7 lead to the locker room at the half. PSU however, would go on to pitch a shutout in the second half, holding Schlichter to 58 yards passing on 5-of-13 passing while the Lions would score 21 unanswered to end up winning 31-19. Despite a shaky performance from Todd Blackledge (8-for-22 for 177 yards), the Lions managed to rack up 602 total yards on offense, thanks to a rushing attack led by Booker Moore and Jonathan Williams.
1982 (Penn State 26, USC 10)
The Nittany Lions’ second straight Fiesta Bowl trip saw the Lions jump out to a 24-7 lead in the first half and never look back in a 26-10 win. While the Todd Blackedge-to-Gregg Garrity connection in the 1983 Sugar Bowl is well-known, its origins can be found in a similar deep ball connection in this edition of the Fiesta Bowl. With the game tied at 7 in the second quarter, Blackledge launched a 52-yard touchdown to Garrity bomb to break the tie (starts around the 47:50 mark of the video above) and started what would end up being a relatively comfortable afternoon for PSU fans.
1987 (Penn State 14, Miami 10)
Two words: Interception, Giftopolous!
1992 (Penn State 42, Tennessee 17)
This game marked the beginning of PSU’s bowl game ownage of Tennessee. The Lions recovered the opening kickoff after Tennessee fumbled it away, setting up a quick early score to go up 7-0. The Volunteers though, would go on to dominate from there on out, sporting a 17-7 lead midway through the third quarter with a lifeless PSU offense being outgained 324-59 in total yardage.
Just when it seemed like Tennessee was going to keep PSU at bay though, the dam broke and PSU went on a scoring barrage of 35 points within less than seven minutes, thanks large part to three straight Tennessee turnovers. Linebacker Reggie Givens intercepted a pass that set up a touchdown and also returned a fumble for a touchdown during that span. Before anyone could blink, PSU had a commanding 42-17 lead early in the fourth quarter, and a bewildered Tennessee squad could only look on in disbelief.
1997 (Penn State 38, Texas 15)
This game was similar to the 1992 edition of the Fiesta Bowl in the sense that Penn State turned it on in the second half after trailing. PSU opened up the scoring once again, going up 7-0 before Texas would answer with 12 straight to take a 12-7 lead into the locker room at the half. PSU however, would outscore the Longhorns 21-3 in the third quarter, thanks to a ground attack led by Curtis Enis and his 95 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns on the ground (Enis also caught a touchdown pass from Wally Richardson). Future Texas Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams scored a touchdown for the Longhorns but was held in check to just 48 yards rushing.