The season was only three weeks old, and yet the thrust-and-parry
between Penn State coach Joe Paterno and his inquisitors had already
grown repetitious. Three games, three ridiculous winning margins,
three times Paterno was left assessing his team against hypothetical
opponents. ''Well, we haven't really been tested yet'' was his
refrain. It was true, they hadn't.
Week 4 brought Rutgers to Beaver Stadium, and there could not have
seemed a less likely foe to test the Nittany Lions. Since joining the
Big Ten, Penn State had jettisoned most of its traditional eastern
opponents from its schedule -- the schools the Lions had built their
lofty reputation against. Only Rutgers and Temple remained. Penn
State had beaten Rutgers 20 of the last 21 times they met, losing
only in 1988 (21-16).
Imagine the surprise, then, when 2-1 Rutgers put together two long
first- half touchdown drives against the Lions. Imagine the
surprise, too, when the Scarlet Knights' slippery quarterback, Ray
Lucas, hit wideout Reggie Funderburk on a 46-yard touchdown pass with
67 seconds left in the half, bringing the Knights to within a
touchdown, 27-20. At last, this was precisely what Paterno said had
been missing: a test.
It turned out to be a pop quiz.
''We weren't worried,'' Lion defensive back Clint Holes said after
the game. ''Everyone knew the offense would explode.''
But did Holes or anyone else expect it to detonate so quickly?
After Funderburk's touchdown, Penn State went 80 yards in eight
plays, and when fullback Jon Witman smashed over from the five, it
gave the Lions a 34-20 lead with five seconds remaining in the half.
It was the first time in 1994 that Penn State had been asked to
respond under pressure, and the result was startling. ''That was a
big-time drive,'' Paterno said later. ''It turned the whole football
There was more of the same after intermission. Senior defensive
tackle Chris Mazyck blocked a field goal. On the next play, Kerry
Collins threw a short slant to wideout Freddie Scott, who turned it
into an 82-yard touchdown. Before the fourth quarter was 10 seconds
old, the score was 55-20 and Penn State had passed its ''test.''
Short of a close game, the inquisitors who sought to evaluate Penn
State's progress were left to grasp at anything. They found it on the
final stat sheet. Rutgers, a good offensive team, had gained 513
yards. Now, as October began, the skeptics had a new question: If
Penn State's defense couldn't stop the Knights, how could it stop
Michigan and Ohio State, two of the Lions' upcoming opponents?
This is an article from the Jan. 18, 1995 issue