TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Valley of the Sun's numbing effect seemed to have a death grip on Penn State's glazed-looking Nittany Lions. Or perhaps it was too much Tennessee mash, as in the Volunteers' voracious defense and punishing offense.
Certainly, Joe Paterno's guys looked as if they were about to pass out because of something.
Then there was the kind of dramatic turnabout midway through the third quarter of yesterday's Fiesta Bowl that has seldom been seen in this crazy game. And Penn State waltzed off with an unlikely 42-17 victory over Tennessee before 71,133 fans at Sun Devil Stadium.
Down 17-7, and looking hopeless, the sixth-ranked Nittany Lions (11-2) snapped awake to score four touchdowns within a span of 3:49 to win their fifth Fiesta Bowl in as many tries and leave the 10th-ranked Volunteers (9-3) dazed.
"We were struggling early and I was struggling early," quarterback Tony Sacca said after throwing four TD passes in his final game for the Nittany Lions. "It took other things to get us going."
Those other things came in such rapid sequence that it was hard to believe they were really happening. As a result, the Nittany Lions went from 10 points down to 18 points up in 3:49, the kind of elevator ride neither Paterno nor Vols coach Johnny Majors seemed to comprehend.
"They just got revved up," Majors said after Tennessee's five-game winning streak ended. "Because of our turnovers and breakdowns in our kicking game."
For State, it was an O.J. McDuffie punt return, a Tyoka Jackson fumble recovery, a Reggie Givens interception and a TD run with a loose ball by Givens that spun this game around.
McDuffie, forced to carry a heavier load because record-setting teammate Terry Smith sat out with a shoulder injury, slapped awake his teammates with a 39-yard punt return to the Vols' 35-yard line with less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter.
"I wasn't sure at the time, but it was the spark we needed," said McDuffie, who caught four passes.
After McDuffie's return, Sacca hit the receiver for 28 yards, then, rolling to his left, found Chip LaBarca over the middle for a 3-yard TD.
That made it 17-14, and shoved the snowball downhill.
Jackson, a speedy defensive tackle, sacked Vols quarterback Andy Kelly and recovered Kelly's fumble at the Tennessee 13. This time, Sacca, who completed six of his last eight passes after going a grim 5-for-20, rolled right and drilled a bullet to tight end Kyle Brady for a 13-yard score and 21-17 Penn State lead.
That happened just 27 seconds after LaBarca's score, and only moments after the Vols had rolled up an incredible 400-67 advantage in total yards.
Two plays after the ensuing kickoff, Givens, a junior linebacker with soft hands, picked off a Kelly pass and ran it to the Vols' 26. On fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, tailback Richie Anderson from Sandy Spring dived in for a 28-17 lead just 49 seconds into the fourth quarter.
It got even crazier.
Fourteen seconds later, Kelly, who apparently didn't hear or see little cornerback Derek Bochna coming, was hammered to the ground by Bochna. The ball squirted into the air, and Givens caught it and ran it 23 yards for a TD that was recorded as an intercepted fumble because a fumble can't be advanced after it's picked off the ground.
"It felt like I had a sack of money in my hands," Givens said. "It's the kind of thing you do in practice but not in a game. That's my first touchdown."
Penn State finished off the Vols when Sacca and McDuffie connected on a 47-yard TD pass on the Nittany Lions' next possession.
It was such an improbable blowout because the Vols had simply mauled Penn State during the first 40 minutes.
Tennessee's offense was toying with State's defense, in the end outgaining the Nittany Lions, 441-226, and running and passing at will. In the first half, all-America receiver Carl Pickens caught eight passes for 100 yards. He finished with the same numbers.
"We were moving the ball up and down but couldn't score many points," said Kelly, ending 20-for-40 for 273 yards. "Then things got out of hand in a hurry."