ORLANDO, Fla. -- Under overcast skies at the Florida Citrus Bowl, the nerdy-looking guy on the sidelines with the Coke-bottle glasses and white socks humbled the high-tech wizardry of the Tennessee Volunteers.
Penn State 31, Tennessee 13, reflects a lesson on the importance of the simple elements of the sport. Tennessee's poor play on both sides of the line and crucial dropped passes, coupled with the efficiency of the Nittany Lions, buried Tennessee yesterday before a Citrus Bowl record crowd of 72,456.
"It's been a long time since we've had to experience something like this," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. "We need to learn from this."
They will be hard lessons for a team averaging 42.8 points that had not lost since Sept. 18, when it was defeated by Florida, 41-34. The Vols (9-2-1) came in as 9 1/2 -point favorites against Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions, who were perceived as too plodding and predictable to keep pace with Tennessee.
Paterno's fashion statement reflects the Leave it to Beaver era. His coaching style reflects the Terminator approach, which is one of the reasons he moved into a tie with Paul "Bear" Bryant for all-time bowl victories at 15.
Once Paterno's Nittany Lions took a firm grip, the Vols painfully conceded.
"If you're in a fistfight and somebody has got you down beating you," Tennessee offensive lineman Kevin Mays said, "then you don't like that too much."
Penn State's three-man pass rush effectively negated Heath Shuler and Tennessee's passing game. The Nittany Lions' strong running game, mixed in with a solid passing touch from Kerry Collins, kept the Vols' defense off-balance. Wide receiver Bobby Engram finished with 184 all-purpose yards and was named the game's most valuable player.
The momentum began shifting toward the end of the second quarter, after a 50-yard field goal by John Becksvoort that gave Tennessee a 13-10 lead with 1:08 left. The Nittany Lions used a combination of passes and runs to move to Tennessee's 14-yard line with 10 seconds left. Ki-Jana Carter then ran for a score on a counter-draw play that went against the flow and negated Tennessee's speed.
"We had one timeout left," Paterno said. "We debated whether we should run or pass. It wouldn't have been such a great call if he hadn't broken a tackle."
With a 17-13 lead, Penn State had a margin that it would widen significantly in the second half.
Penn State (10-2) began its initial drive on the third quarter at its 40, scoring a touchdown in 11 plays. Collins threw across the field to tight end Kyle Brady, who had beaten cornerback DeRon Jenkins on the right sideline.
Down 24-13, the Vols had a plausible chance to rally on their final drive of the third quarter. Shuler, Tennessee's marquee quarterback who was hurried most of the game and hurt by at least seven dropped passes, moved the Vols from their 17 to Penn State's 47. He lofted a well-thrown ball to wide receiver Billy Williams, who was open inside the 10. The ball bounced off Williams' hands, epitomizing the missed opportunities for the Vols.
"You're human," Williams said. "You drop the ball. Heath told me to keep my head up. That it was OK. It was on my fingertips. Yes, I should have made the catch."
Penn State had no such technical difficulties. The Nittany Lions out-rushed Tennessee, 209-135, were called for only four penalties for 30 yards and only had one turnover. The Vols were sacked four times, half their total for the entire season and were penalized 10 times for 79 yards.
"They did an outstanding job of coming here and playing a physical brand of football, holding the football and executing," Fulmer said.
Penn State 7 10 7 7 -- 31
Tennessee 10 3 0 0 -- 13