Penn State Takes Air Out of Georgia Tech’s Streak


Another season of college football began here Wednesday night, when, in a game known as the Kickoff Classic, a team coached by Joe Paterno scored on--get this--five pass plays.

The conservative leader of the Penn State Nittany Lions covered his eyes with his hands, presumably, as a 6-foot-5 quarterback, Tony Sacca, dispatched three of his five touchdown passes on three consecutive plays midway through the second half.

That broke it open, sending Georgia Tech hurtling to a 34-22 defeat before a record 77,409, and ending the longest unbeaten streak in Division I-A football, a string that Georgia Tech ran to 16 last New Year’s Day with a victory over Nebraska in the Florida Citrus Bowl.


That day, the Yellow Jackets also won the coaches’ version of the 1990 national championship--winning in part, no doubt, because they weren’t looking across at a Paterno team.

This time, en route to a 34-3 lead in the fourth quarter before Georgia Tech bunched three consolation touchdowns, Paterno’s four powerful linebackers controlled the Georgia Tech offense handily and his quarterback threw the ball like crazy.

In a 13-3 first half, Sacca’s first two scoring passes went four and eight yards to Penn State’s smallest wide receiver, Terry Smith, who is 5-8 and 155.

The other wide receiver, O.J. McDuffie, caught the next two on scoring plays measuring five and 39 yards. McDuffie’s long one was the artistic catch of the night, requiring end-zone concentration and sure hands while he was closely guarded.

No. 5, the longest of the five touchdowns, was mostly a run by tailback Richie Anderson on a 52-yard play that Sacca began with a screen pass.

A Heisman Trophy candidate, Sacca excels as passer, runner and debater. His debates this year with Paterno, in which he successfully talked the coach into putting in a pass offense, have made him what he is. And what Penn State is--this season.

“The more we throw the ball, the better he likes me,” Paterno, the winningest coach in Division I-A, said before the game. “We’ve been throwing it a lot (in practice), and right now he likes me.”

And, Wednesday night, vice versa. No Penn State team has ever been seen before in a five-touchdown passing game.

Said Paterno: “How many times did (Sacca) throw it--24? That didn’t make him happy. He wouldn’t be happy if he transferred to Houston.”

Sacca completed 13 of his 24 passes for 206 yards.

This game started Paterno’s second quarter-century at Penn State, where he has won 230 games. With five more victories, he’ll tie Woody Hayes for fourth all time behind Bear Bryant, Amos Alonzo Stagg and Pop Warner.

Georgia Tech’s late three-touchdown flurry, produced mostly by reserves against reserves, enabled the Yellow Jackets to win the statistics--with 409 total net yards to 365, and 22 first downs to 18.

But when the game was there to win or lose, the Penn State defense kept Georgia Tech quarterback Shawn Jones from putting together any sustained drives.

“Those linebackers, I think they’re as good a four as I’ve ever seen at one time in a football game,” said Georgia Tech Coach Bobby Ross, who is 0-5 against Paterno.