Date story was published: Saturday, January 02, 1999
TAMPA, Fla. - It had been slowed from time to time, its progress impededonce in a great while. A punt here. A failed fourth down there. Nothing major.Nothing chronic. Stop Kentucky's high-octane offense? Good luck.
"We just hope we can slow them down a little," sly ol' Joe Paterno saidthis week.
And then yesterday at a packed Raymond James Stadium, the crafty old PennState coach and his trusty sidekick, wily defensive coordinator JerrySandusky, went out and did what they said couldn't be done: They stopped theunstoppable.
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After giving up two touchdowns in the game's first frantic 11 minutes, theskilled and aggressive Nittany Lions put the clamps on Hal Mumme and TimCouch, beating the Cats 26-14 in the 13th Outback Bowl.
Travis Forney kicked a bowl-record four field goals. And much-malignedquarterback Kevin Thompson hit Joe Nastasi for a 56-yard touchdown, and fellowreceiver Chafie Fields went 19 yards on an end-around for another score as ayoung Penn State team sent a clarion call for '99, finishing 9-3.
But it was the Penn State defense, coordinated by a 30-year veteran inSandusky, that was superb. Kentucky's Air Raid attack had scored at least afield goal in 40 of its previous 44 quarters, a success rate of 91 percent.But after bunching 14 points in yesterday's first quarter, UK hung threestraight goose eggs for the first time in the Mumme era.
"After the first quarter we just shut them down," Penn State defensive endBrad Scioli said. "I'm really proud of that."
How? Never mind good luck. Try great athletes. Led by defensive end andgame MVP Courtney Brown, Scioli, linebackers LaVar Arrington and BrandonShort, and cornerback David Macklin, the Lions took advantage of a patchworkUK offensive line and held the Cats scoreless for nine straight possessions.On five of those, Kentucky moved inside the 40-yard line only to come upempty.
Penn State limited Couch to an even-steven two touchdowns/twointerceptions. They held stellar receiver Craig Yeast to a season-low twocatches for 31 yards.
"We've got a young football team that learned a lot from Coach Paternotoday," said Mumme, whose team finished 7-5 and played in its first New Year'sDay bowl game since 1952. "I think Coach Sandusky does an outstanding job. Hehas great athletes and he does a great job of putting them in the rightplaces."
Indeed, taking advantage of a UK offensive line that played with threeredshirt freshmen, Sandusky's unit continually beat on Couch, sacking him fivetimes, hitting him countless others.
It had an effect. Couch's first three drives: 10 of 11 for 137 yards (12.5per throw) and two touchdowns. Couch the rest of the day: 20 of 37 for 199yards (5.4 per throw) and no touchdowns, with two interceptions.
"But he's a great player," Arrington said. "He reminded me of Brett Favre.We kept hitting him and he kept getting back up."
"I got hit I think every play in the Tennessee game," Couch said. "Butthey hit me a lot today. When we got into a position where we had to throw theball almost every play, they did a great job with their blitzing."
At first, it didn't appear the Cats would be in that position. Even withyoung Josh Parrish replacing senior starter Jeremy Streck (partially torn kneeligament) at left guard after the first series, the Cats clicked early.
On UK's second possession, a scrambling Couch found Lance Mickelsen in theback of the end zone - "I'd gotten past the safety and we kind of made eyecontact," said Mickelsen. "I didn't know if I was going to have enough room."- for a 36-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
Next possession, Couch engineered a five-play, 64-yard drive, hittingMickelsen for 30 yards to the 16, then Anthony White (who made a great move tojuke Derek Fox) for a 14-3 lead.
That was it, however.
UK's next possessions included two interceptions, two punts, a missed fieldgoal, a failed fourth-and-14, and a failed fourth-and-1 from UK's own 35-yardline.
By that time, two plays into the fourth quarter, the Cats trailed 19-14.His offense sputtering, his defense growing noticeably weary, Mumme rolled thedice. But fullback Derek Homer was smothered for no gain.
"I don't regret going for it, but I do regret the call," Mumme said. "Itwas a poor call on my part."
Three snaps later, Penn State went for it on fourth-and-1 from the UK 26and made it, full back Mike Cerimele gaining 7 yards. Two snaps later, Fieldsnavigated 19 yards on an end- around to effectively ice the game.
UK outgained the Lions 441-420 for the game, but the Cats were outgained204-127 and outscored 13-0 in the second half. "I just don't think we wereever in sync the second half," Mumme said.
Penn State's defense, ranked 12th nationally coming in, was in sync andthen some.
"We got a good feel for how they were blocking us, and then we came afterthem harder," said the ultra-athletic Arrington.
"Once we settled down we knew what we had to do," said Scioli. "Once we gotinto our game, I think we controlled it."
Ol' Joe Pa has controlled a few bowl games before. Yesterday marked his19th bowl victory against just nine losses and one tie.
"They just made good adjustments," Mickelsen said. "Penn State's coacheshave been around a long time."