PSU-A&M: Penn State wins the battle of the Alamodome
SAN ANTONIO, TX -- One of the major flaws of the bowl post-season system is that when you have two teams take five weeks off, then play a relatively meaningless contest, odds are pretty decent that you'll get a stinker of a game.
The 2007 Valero Alamo Bowl was anything but a stinker.
In front of a mostly-hostile Alamodome-record crowd, Penn State dug out of a 14-0 hole, then withstood two long Texas A&M drives to pull off a 24-17 classic in Joe Paterno's 500th game.
Both teams fought hard, and both teams played like they've played all season.
Penn State again started slowly, as Texas A&M put two TDs on the board 12 seconds apart in the first quarter. Tailback Mike Goodson capped a 70-yard drive by taking an option pitch in from a yard out, then after Penn State fumbled the kickoff at the 16, Goodson busted the first play up the middle, broke to the outside, and outran the defense to the corner to make it 14-0.
Penn State had outscored their opponents 114-21 in the second quarter this season, and they continued that trend tonight. The Nittany Lions totaled 155 yards and 17 unanswered points in the second quarter and took the momentum away with two quick TDs.
The biggest play of the half came with Penn State facing a 4th-and-3 at the A&M 30. Having missed a field goal earlier, Penn State kept their offense on the field, and Anthony Morelli lofted a long pass towards the end zone. Deon Butler was pretty well-covered, but dove away from his defender and made an incredible sprawling catch to get the Lions on the scoreboard.
That seemed to energize the defense, which quickly responded with a sack and the first of Maurice Evans' two forced fumbles. Handed the ball at the 11, athletic backup QB Daryll Clark blasted the first play up the middle and launched himself for the tying touchdown.
A&M tied the game at 17 in the third quarter, but Penn State got the eventual winning points on the next drive. With the Alamodome rocking with screaming Aggies, Morelli calmly threw for 21 yards on third down to get the drive going, and later, facing a 3rd-and-1 play from the A&M 38, freshman tailback Evan Royster broke through the middle and found nothing but the end zone in front of himself.
Then it was up to the Penn State defense to secure the win. The Nit defenders bent a lot, but never broke. Earlier, A&M had put together an 18-play, 78-yard drive to get the game-tying field goal. In the fourth quarter, A&M took the ball at their own one, converted three third downs, and eventually faced a 4th-and-1 at the Penn State two. A timeout set up the key play of the game.
Rather than run 270+pound battering ram Jorvorskie Lane up the middle, the Aggies chose to run option as they had on their first TD. McGee headed right but saw the defense cutting off his path. He tried to slow up, but his feet slipped and he went down in the backfield.
"Goal line stands are sometimes just a question of whether you make this call or that call," admitted Paterno. "They had been running that play-action pass to the fullback, and we were actually more ready for that than the option, but we had a couple of guys make great plays."
Texas A&M had pulled off the two longest drives Penn State had allowed all season, but had only three points to show for it.
A&M's offense got one more chance but couldn't cross midfield, and Penn State's running game took over. PSU's ground attack produced 270 yards tonight, 143 coming from Offensive Player of the Game Rodney Kinlaw and 65 from Royster. The duo consistently ripped off solid gains, putting the Lions in short-yardage situations and converting third downs all night.
"We ran effectively when we had to," said Paterno. "When we had to have a first down, we came up there tough. The offensive line came off tough."
The excellent game was a great ending to a week that started off poorly with an A&M Yell Leader telling a joint pep rally that Paterno was "on his death bed." After the game, Penn State players again called the comment classless, but said it provided them no extra motivation, and Paterno again dismissed the incident as a youthful mistake.
"I feel bad for the young man. Do you guys remember when you were 18 or 19?" he asked a room full of media. "What jerks you were?"
The tough loss was a tough end to a tough year for an A&M team that suffered several blowout losses in big games, endured season-long controversy over their coach's secret newsletter, and eventually saw Dennis Franchione resign after their season-highlighting upset win over Texas. New head coach Mike Sherman should join the program soon after the NFL season ends Sunday, and he'll try to get things turned around in College Station.
For Penn State... well, a reporter apologetically told the 81-year-old Paterno that he had to ask The Question. Paterno looked a little confused, so the reporter spelled it out: "Are you coming back next season?"
"I thought you were going to ask me if I could still do it," Paterno said as the room burst into laughter. "I'm having a lot of fun. Did you see that crowd and atmosphere tonight? Where would I rather be?"
Can you give a more perfect answer than that?