Sept. 29th, 1979 (Lincoln, NE)
In 1979, No. 18 Penn State came to Nebraska ready to deal an upset of No. 6 Nebraska. And early on it appeared the Nittany Lions would succeed as they took an early 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
PSU quarterback Dayle Tate threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Brad Scovill and later its defense intercepted a Husker pass and returned it 30 yards with 2:54 remaining in the quarter.
The Huskers didn’t panic and slowly started to chip away and wear down the Nittany Lions on defense in typical Big Red fashion.
“The offense has to have time to crank it up, and that’s just what we did in the second quarter,” said NU I-back Jarvis Redwine who led the Huskers in rushing with 124 yards in 22 attempts.
Redwine helped begin the Husker onslaught, setting-up their first touchdown by running 19-yards off left tackle. It was the first of four that were scored by NU in the second quarter and ended any chance of a Penn State win.
Nebraska quarterback Tim Hager who was 14-for-22 passing with 215 yards and two touchdowns redeemed himself from the earlier interception, leading a drive of 85 yards on13 plays culminating with an 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Junior Miller to cut Penn State’s lead in half within a minute gone in the second quarter.
Then it was the tandem of Hager and Miller again, this time on a 70-yard touchdown pass with seven minutes to go in the half to tie the game at fourteen a piece.
“We didn’t have a pass rush – we couldn’t,” PSU defensive tackle Bruce Clark said. “They did a lot of play-action stuff, faking the run, and kept freezing us. We didn’t know whether it would be a pass or a run. It wasn’t as though they were dropping back. They always seemed to have the big play.”
Penn State couldn’t stem the tide with its offense as they turned the ball over on the first play of their ensuing drive at their own 15-yard line. Nebraska wasted little time taken advantage as wingback Kenny Brown took the ball on a reverse and scored from 16 yards out to give NU its first lead of the game at 21-14.
The Huskers would tack on another touchdown, this time a five-yard run from fullback Andra Franklin ending a four-play 59-yard scoring drive. The highlight of the drive came on Franklin’s 34-yard run. Franklin would rush for 63 yards on only 9 carries in the game.
“Millen was trying to get in a grudge match with me,” said NU offensive lineman Mark Goodspeed of Penn State defensive tackle Matt Millen. “On defense you can lose your head and go crazy, but on offense you have to keep a level head. He talked all he wanted to, but our scoreboard did the talking for us. Millen was getting frustrated with some of the techniques we were using on offense. It was demoralizing for them.”
Nebraska was up 28-14 at halftime and didn’t give their momentum back to the Nittany Lions. The Blackshirt defense made sure of that giving up only 66 yards of total offense and four first downs in the second half.
After the Huskers gave Penn State a field goal due to a fumble at the NU 25-yard line, the Blackshirt defense led by Kim Baker and Brent Williams, who notched 16 tackles each, shut them down the rest of the way.
“We substitute a lot,” NU middle guard Kerry Weinmaster said. “Our defense is always alternating and I think we got more pressure on them because we had fresher linemen in.”
With Nebraska’s defense getting the job done, the offense put together touchdown drives of 69 and 57 yards, both ending in touchdown runs.
The final score read 42-17. After an early 14-0 lead, being outscored 42 to 3 wasn’t something Penn State thought was possible after their great start.
“When you jump out to an unexpected early lead sometimes you get that momentum, you relax a little bit and all of a sudden, boom, here comes the other team,” Nebraska head coach Tom Osborne said. “We had that happen to us last year against Missouri when we scored on the first play of the game. It was almost too easy.”
“At this stage we just weren’t ready to handle some of the things they showed us,” Penn State head coach Joe Paterno said. “I didn’t envision losing by 25 points to Nebraska before the season, although we knew we had some problems in the secondary.”
There were no issues with Nebraska’s secondary as the play of that unit helped the Blackshirt defense really put pressure on the Penn State offense.
“Our defensive backs said they could handle the receivers so we eventually went to man-to-man coverage. This enabled us to rush more, helping us to put a little heat on the quarterback,” Osborne said.
The Big Red would finish with 530 yards of total offense compared to Penn State’s 183. It was a dominating performance on national television.
“We had to rise to the occasion,” Redwine said. “There were a lot of representatives from the bowl committees so we had to have a good showing.” You hate to get behind in a game like this, but we have a team full of character – when we get down we come back. It’s a great feeling to come back on Penn State because once you get behind you figure, ‘Hey, this might be an uphill climb,’ but our offense started clicking and we came back.”
With the win Nebraska moved to 3-0. They would go on to win their next seven contests, climbing as high as No. 2 in the national polls before dropping its final two games of the season to No. 8 Oklahoma, 17-14, and to No. 8 Houston in the Cotton Bowl, 17-14.Penn State meanwhile finished 8-4 on the year and played in the Liberty Bowl defeating Tulane, 9-6 and finish No. 20 in the nation
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Shane Gilster is the Editor of Big Red Report Magazine. His stories focus mainly on catching up with former Huskers and examining Nebraska athletic history.