MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Maybe Penn State finally has found the answer for its struggling offense.
Well, at least the Nittany Lions found one for a game yesterday.
Senior reserve quarterback Tom Bill replaced junior starter Ton Sacca midway in the second quarter and led the Nittany Lions to three touchdowns, as Penn State defeated West Virginia, 31-19, before 66,461 at Mountaineers Stadium, the third-largest crowd in West Virginia football history.
Bill, a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder, completed only seven of 12 passe for 99 yards, but inspired his team by throwing a 9-yard touchdown pass and running 5 yards for another.
The performance helped keep the Nittany Lions (6-2) on course for postseason play, as seven bowl represenatives were on hand, including those from the Sunkist Fiesta, Mazda Gator, Florida Citrus and Mobil Cotton bowls. Penn State has won six straight games since losing its first two against Texas and Southern California.
It was the second consecutive strong relief effort from Bill, wh helped the Nittany Lions defeat Alabama, 9-0, a week ago, directing two short drives that resulted in field goals. It also brought back the quarterback controversy that bothered the Nittany Lions a year ago.
Last year, Bill was the starter until after the second game of th season, when coach Joe Paterno suspended him after a third alcohol-related arrest during his career at Penn State.
Sacca has started every game since, even though Bill relieved him in the last three regular-season games of 1989. Now Sacca is cold and Bill is hot, leaving Paterno to decide who will be the starter Saturday, when the Nittany Lions face Maryland (5-4) in University Park, Pa.
"I thought Tom played well," said Paterno. "I think the team did good job of responding. My intentions were not to go to Tom, but let Tony play the game. But Tony was struggling."
Who will start against Maryland?
"I don't know," said Paterno.
Bill said: "I just wanted to get in there again and get anothe chance to move the team. I'm not going to worry about who the starter will be next week, because after what I have been through, you just try to get through the next day. I'll practice and take my snaps as usual and if I start, so be it. And if the team needs me in a backup role, I'll do that too."
Sacca, 6-5, 225 pounds, who completed only one of four passes for 13 yards, was relieved with 6:42 left in the second period. He said he was surprised he was taken out so early.
"Your guess is as good as mine if I'll start next week," sai Sacca, who entered the game having completed 77 of 163 passes for 1,227 yards. "What I need to do is go out, practice and try to find the rhythm I had earlier in the season.
"But I wasn't the only one struggling out there. The entire offense came out flat. I guess that's why I got the hook -- I'm the leader."
Here's another reason for Sacca being relieved. On two of the team's possession while he was playing, Penn State started at the West Virginia 46- and 38-yard lines, but produced no points.
Bill came in with Penn State ahead, 7-3, thanks to an interception by hero back Darren Perry of a Greg Hill pass on the second offensive play of the game. Perry returned it 30 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown.
On Bill's second offensive series, he took the Nittany Lions 43 yards in 11 plays, throwing a 9-yard touchdown pass to wide-out Terry Smith in the right corner of the end zone on a fade pattern. It put Penn State ahead, 14-3, with 37 seconds left in the half. pTC The key play in the drive was an 18-yard pass from Bill to Smith from the Mountaineers' 29 on a second-and-11 play.
"More importantly, his enthusiasm kind of fired us up," said Gerry Collins. "He's a guy who has been in this kind of situation before."
West Virginia, down 14-6 at the half, scored on its first possession of the third period as halfback Garrett Ford finished a nine-play, 90-yard drive with a 10-yard touchdown run up the middle to pull the Mountaineers [329 yards of total offense] within 14-12.
But, back came Bill and the Nittany Lions with a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive. Bill completed passes of 25, 10 and 5 yards in the drive, then finished it with 1:25 left in the third quarter with a 5-yard run around right end on a busted play.
Penn State finally put West Virginia (3-5) away when Collins scored on a 19-yard touchdown run around left end 2:39 into the fourth period to complete a 40-yard, seven-play drive.