Alamo Bowl Preview
Joe Paterno has provided stability for the Penn State program for more than 40 years. Texas A&M has entrusted Gary Darnell to oversee the program for just one game.
While the Nittany Lions (8-4) will play their 500th game since Paterno became coach in 1966, Texas A&M (7-5) turns to Darnell to coach the Aggies on an interim basis for the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29 in San Antonio.
Darnell, the Aggies defensive coordinator for the last two seasons, took over after coach Dennis Franchione resigned about an hour following a 38-30 home win over Texas in the regular-season finale on Nov. 23.
"It's quite a Catch-22," Darnell said. "Now we get rewarded for that win by playing Penn State. We all know what a great program Penn State is and what credibility that coach Paterno brings - not just to Penn State, but to the entire sport of football."
Franchione's tumultuous five-year tenure ended amid reports that his personal assistant had released e-mails with inside information about the program to boosters who subscribed for $1,200 a year. The allegations contributed to Franchione's resignation and a $4.4 million buyout of his contract.
Houston Texans associate coach Mike Sherman was named Franchione's replacement three days after the regular-season finale.
The Aggies' win over Texas ended a three-game losing streak.
"It's how well we can reward our players for sticking together and doing the right thing," Darnell said. "One thing is to lead our players to their best effort and if we can do that then everyone can sleep at night."
Darnell has never participated in a bowl game as a head coach.
Paterno has set the record for bowl wins and appearances, entering his 34th postseason game with a 22-10-1 mark. Paterno has a 371-125-3 record in his career, trailing Florida State's Bobby Bowden by two for the most wins among major college coaches. Paterno turns 81 this month, the same one in which he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
"It's been a good year and good group of kids to work with," said Paterno, who is 8-2 in bowl games since Penn State entered the Big Ten in 1993. "It's a bit of a reward to go to a bowl game."
The Aggies, meanwhile, have dropped six of their seven bowl appearances since 1997.
Included in the Aggies' recent bowl struggles is their last meeting with Penn State - a 24-0 Nittany Lions' win in the 1999 Alamo Bowl. That is the only bowl shutout victory in Paterno's tenure.
Penn State has since made three bowl appearances, winning one in each of the last two seasons.
With a crowd that figures to favor the Aggies, the Nittany Lions look to improve upon their struggles away from Beaver Stadium this season. Penn State finished 2-3 on the road after a 35-31 loss at Michigan State on Nov. 17, blowing a 17-point second-half lead in its regular-season finale.
"It's not the way you want to go out," said linebacker Dan Connor, who won the Chuck Bednarik Award as the best defensive college football player. "It's tough on the team and it's difficult, to say the least. And hopefully, we'll make a statement in a bowl game."
Quarterback Anthony Morelli looks to end his college career with a second straight bowl victory. He completed 14 of 25 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown in Penn State's 20-10 win over Tennessee in last season's Outback Bowl.
Penn State went 7-1 this season in games when Morelli threw for at least 195 yards.
Despite becoming the Nittany Lions' primary ball carrier midway through the season after Austin Scott was removed from the team, Rodney Kinlaw finished fifth in the Big Ten in rushing with 1,186 yards. Penn State went 4-1 when Kinlaw ran for more than 100 yards.
"A lot of teams would love to be 8-4 right now," Penn State center A.Q. Shipley said. "That's not where we planned on being, but it ended up that way. We have to make the most of it, go to a bowl game and hopefully make the most of it."
The Aggies' offense revolves around Stephen McGee. The quarterback led Texas A&M in rushing this season with 858 yards. He threw for a career-high 362 yards and three touchdowns while completing 25 of 36 passes in the season finale against Texas.
McGee was limited to 177 yards passing and 31 rushing in last season's 45-10 loss to California in the Holiday Bowl.
Both teams have faced distractions since their regular-season finales.
Besides dealing with the coaching situation, Texas A&M has had two players - offensive lineman Yemi Babakika and defensive end Brandon Joiner - get suspended indefinitely after they were arrested in connection with a home-invasion case.
Penn State defensive tackle Chris Baker and linebacker Navorro Bowman had their case bound over for trial in connection with an on-campus fight.
by: Staff Writers - Email Us
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