EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Maybe Tony Sacca was right after all. Maybe Penn State coach Joe Paterno needed to give his senior quarterback a little freedom, a chance to throw the ball more than once a millennium.
Consider what happened in last night's 34-22 victory over eighth-ranked Georgia Tech in the Kickoff Classic at Giants Stadium. Considering what Sacca and the No. 7 Nittany Lions did, maybe Penn State's offense finally has come into the '90s.
Sacca, who never had thrown more than three touchdown passes in a college game, threw five against the defenseless Yellow Jackets. Three of them came in a span of a little more than three minutes late in the third quarter and early in the fourth, turning a 13-3 lead into a 34-3 rout.
"Sometimes people get the wrong impression of what we're doing offensively," Paterno said after Penn State won an opener for the first time in three years and ended the nation's longest unbeaten streak at 16 games. "We were ready to throw the football. Tony did a good job hanging in there under a lot of pressure."
While Sacca (13-for-24, 206 yards) was busy breaking Todd Blackledge's one-game school record of four touchdown passes, Georgia Tech's Shawn Jones was suffering through a miserable night. The junior quarterback, thought to be a Heisman Trophy candidate, fumbled three times and was intercepted once before scoring a meaningless touchdown late in the game.
It was an embarrassing opening game for the Yellow Jackets, who shared last season's national championship with Colorado.
Not only was Georgia Tech's offense error-prone, but its vaunted defense also was exposed often by Sacca and the Nittany Lions. Only two late touchdowns passes by reserve quarterback Jeff Howard saved Tech from being completely wiped out.
"We didn't have one of our better nights, no question about that," said Georgia Tech coach Bobby Ross, whose fifth straight defeat to Paterno was more one-sided than the previous four at Maryland. "We have some problems with our running game right now that we have to get straightened out."
As for the Nittany Lions, Ross said, "I think it's the best Penn State team I've seen in my time."
Though the Nittany Lions started slowly, they were hardly
stopped once they got going. Sacca hit Terry Smith for touchdown passes of 4 and 8 yards to help Penn State to a 13-0 lead late in the second quarter. The only bright spot in the first half for Georgia Tech was a career-best and Kickoff Classic record 51-yard field goal by Scott Sisson as time ran out.
"After the field goal, I thought we could get back into the game," said Ross. "But we came back and started turning over the ball. The fumbled punt was the play that started the avalanche. The two things we did last year were be on the plus side on turnovers and penalties. We weren't close tonight."
Penn State kept the Yellow Jackets in the game briefly in the second half, as Sacca missed a couple of wide-open receivers and Craig Fayak missed field-goal attempts of 49 and 41 yards to end drives. But the Nittany Lions finally capitalized on Georgia Tech's many mistakes.
After failing to turn a fumbled punt by Georgia Tech's Jason McGill into points -- the ball was recovered by former McDonough (Charles County) standout Brent Wright of Pomfret, Md. -- Penn State got another chance. A botched pitched by Jones was recovered by Tyoka Jackson of Forestville, Md., at the Yellow Jacket 21, and Sacca rumbled 15 yards to the 6. Three plays later, Sacca hit O.J. McDuffie for the first of two touchdowns.
The second touchdown catch by McDuffie, which followed an interception of a pass from Jones by Matt Baggett, was a 39-yarder. On the play, McDuffie turned around cornerback Curley Day, then controlled the ball as it bounced off his shoulder and was tipped into the air. Another fumble by Jones led to a 52-yard touchdown pass-and-run from Sacca to redshirt sophomore tailback Richie Anderson of Sandy Spring, Md.
"I can't take the credit for the five touchdown passes," said Sacca. "A couple of them were nearly handoffs, and O.J. made a great play on the one in the corner. It was just a good night all around for us."
It was a bad night all around for Georgia Tech. Things got so desperate for the Yellow Jackets, who had come into the game with an untested tailback, that Ross used All-America safety Ken Swilling in the offensive backfield for one series in the second quarter. Swilling failed to turn in time for a short pass, then was stuffed for a 2-yard loss on fourth-and-one.
Penn State's defense held Georgia Tech to 147 yards on 34 attempts rushing. The Nittany Lions forced Jones out of the pocket often, but also made sure to make him run toward the middle of the field, rather than to the outside.
And Sacca kept throwing. What's this world coming to, anyway?