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Lion Tales: West Virginia

It’s a new series, so settle in for story time

Kerry Collins

Here’s something new - but also old.

I’ve been a Penn State fan since the early 1990s when I first began to understand the rules of football. With that, I am always ready to take a look back at Penn State games of old - especially if that game rests somewhere on YouTube.

Also with that in mind, I want to provide a little context and a little history to each opponent during a 2023 game week. So, the idea for this column is simple: we remember notable or fun or maybe even completely forgotten games in series between Penn State and its opponents.

What decides if a game is fun or memorable or maybe even forgotten? Me. I do. It’s my chance to educate some of you younger readers or to hear tales from those who lived it from our more veteran commenters. Or, it could easily be a game from two years ago. In year two as a BSD staffer, I finally get that power.

So, without further ado, let’s talk West Virginia.

For a look at the highlights - check out the video below. Actually start at the 16:20 mark so you can be sure to catch highlights of O.J. McDuffie dunking in the IM Building.

This is the first time the Nittany Lions and Mountaineers have played since the 1992 season and that game is the one I want to highlight.

For those not well versed in early 1990s Penn State football, the 1992 season felt an awful lot like the 2021 year that we all just endured.

Penn State started 5-0 and was ranked in the Top Ten in the country when defending national champion Miami, riding a 21-game win streak, paid a visit to Beaver Stadium. The Lions battled, but lost 17-14 and then had a rally fall three points short a week later at home against No. 20 Boston College.

Now 5-2 and having dropped to No. 14 in the polls, Penn State turned to a sophomore quarterback for his first career start. That’s right. Kerry Collins, who had battled an offseason finger injury, had been in a quarterback competition with John Sacca.

Meanwhile West Virginia was a very strange 3-1-2 with one of those ties coming against Boston College. While Penn State has dominated the series against the Mountaineers, the Lions had dropped two of the previous four trips to Morgantown.

With Penn State set to join the Big Ten in 1993, there were some oddities to be aware of in that era of college football. For one, Penn State had agreed to a Blockbuster Bowl appearance in the preseason, but that only kicked in once the Lions earned win No. 6.

Meanwhile, there were lots of questions surrounding whether or not Penn State would ever play these traditional rivals again. In the week leading up to the game, West Virginia’s athletic director had actually said that the rivalry wouldn’t resume until after the year 2000. While technically correct, it was probably hard to imagine that 2023 would, in fact, be that year.

But what about the game?

Well, it wound up being a barn burner rather than a couch burner. Collins was solid in his first start, passing for 249 yards and a pair of scores. That included a perfectly executed tight end screen pass to Troy Drayton.

However, West Virginia had some firepower of its own with one of the nation’s top rushers, Adrian Murrell, in its backfield. He ran for 154 yards, the most yards ever by a WVU running back against Penn State.

Tied at 26 in the latter stages of the fourth quarter, Penn State was backed up inside its own 20-yard line.

In a preview of what he would famously do two years later at Illinois, Collins was in control as he led a 12-play, 89-yard drive under the lights at Mountaineer Field. During that series, Collins completed a 40-yard pass to convert a third down and also gained two yards on a quarterback sneak when faced with fourth-and-inches.

The drive ended with Richie Anderson leaping over the top for the go-ahead touchdown with 52 seconds remaining. It was the second score of Anderson’s 133-yard day.

Penn State tacked on an insurance touchdown when Phil Yeboah-Kodie (one of the great names of Lion football history) scored on a pick six in the closing seconds.

The win gave Penn State a 48-9-2 advantage in the series, which holds heading into Saturday night. It would also prove to be one of the last fun moments of that ‘92 season.

A week later, the Lions lost on the road at BYU and then fell in the closing seconds in South Bend against Notre Dame in the famed “Snow Bowl” game. Ultimately, Penn State lost three of its final four games in 1992 culminating with a dispirited loss to Stanford - and head coach Bill Waslsh - in the aforementioned Blockbuster Bowl.