STATE COLLEGE, Pa. Ã¢€” Pennsylvania State University was founded in 1855; The University of South Florida, nearly a century later.
Penn State just began its 113th football season; USF, its ninth.
Penn State has seven undefeated seasons, two national championships and several bowl wins; USF has never played in a bowl game.
So when USF gave the Nittany Lions a bit of a scare Sept. 3, it was somewhat of a surprise.
“Unfortunately, I couldn’t convince some people that South Florida has some athletes, because they do,” said Penn State coach Joe Paterno after his team’s 23-13 win over USF last Saturday. “They’re not here as a bunch of kids. They’ve played some good football teams in big stadiums and they played well.”
Saturday’s game was no exception.
In front of nearly 100,000 fans at Beaver Stadium, USF (0-1) gave Paterno and company all it could handle, and save for two turnovers and two long Penn State runs, the Bulls played even with Penn State (1-0).
Early on, things couldn’t have looked worse for USF, which looked as though it was en route to being shut out for the first time in program history.
The defense was giving up big plays, including a 61-yard run by freshman Justin King that led to a field goal and a 3-0 Penn State lead.
Quarterback Courtney Denson, who didn’t complete a pass or lead the offense to a first down in three disastrous series, showed inexperience in his first career college start and was pulled after his fumble was returned 16 yards for the game’s first touchdown.
Pat Julmiste came in on the next series and promptly threw an interception that led to a Penn State touchdown.
“It was a closer game than the score indicated,” Paterno said. “In all fairness, they gave us a couple easy ones.”
Before they probably knew it, the Bulls were down 17-0.
But Julmiste, who battled with Denson all spring for the starting job, showed poise and precision following his miscue, completing 21 of 35 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns to receiver Johnny Peyton.
After the game, coach Jim Leavitt said Julmiste “earned” the starting job against Florida A&M next weekend.
“I think you have to look at Pat right now,” Leavitt said. “If I think about the game, I’d say Pat has earned that right now.”
Down 17-0 late in the first half, it was the Bulls defense that provided a spark. Defensive back Trae Williams’ interception near midfield provided the Bulls with a chance to make something happen before halftime.
On the ensuing drive, Julmiste completed four of five passes – a spiked ball to stop the clock was the one incompletion – and with four seconds left, he lobbed a jump ball to Peyton, who stretched above three defenders to haul in USF’s first score of the game.
Penn State scored again early in the fourth quarter on a drive that was highlighted by a 70-yard run by running back Tony Hunt, who finished with 140 yards on 15 carries.
Still, the Bulls didn’t give up.
On USF’s next drive, Julmiste found Peyton again to bring the Bulls within 10 with about three minutes left in the game. USF went for two, but Julmiste’s pass was a bit off target, solidifying a Penn State victory.
There was no sugarcoating in the locker room after the game.
“We didn’t do a good enough job because we didn’t come out with a win,” Julmiste said.
As for how this game may affect the remainder of the season, Leavitt kept it simple.
“If we improve, we have a chance to be pretty good,” he said. “If we don’t, we won’t.”
The same could be said for heavily favored Penn State, which was favored to win by 23 points. Maybe these two schools have more in common than we thought.