Rose Bowl Rewind: Penn State vs. Oregon — 1995

Arielle Sargent
December 21, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- With Penn State's fourth Rose Bowl appearance less than two weeks away, this is the second look back at the three previous times in program history the Nittany Lions have traveled to Pasadena for the "Granddaddy of Them All."

In part one, we went back to Penn State's first bowl game appearance following the 1922 season, where Penn State and USC met in the current Rose Bowl Stadium for the first time in their storied histories.

Part two of Penn State's Rose Bowl rewind flashes forward to 1994, the Nittany Lions' first undefeated season as a member of the Big Ten Conference in only their second year in the league. In becoming the first Big Ten team ever to post a 12-0 record, the Nittany Lions were the first league team since Ohio State in 1968 to register an unblemished slate.

Signature to the 1994 team that defeated Oregon in the 1995 Rose Bowl Game, though, was one of the most potent and explosive offenses in NCAA, Big Ten and program history.

Penn State captured its first of four Big Ten titles during a remarkable 1994 season, setting a plethora of school and Big Ten records along the way. Five Nittany Lions earned first-team All-America honors: running back Ki-Jana Carter, tight end Kyle Brady, wide receiver Bobby Engram, guard Jeff Hartings and quarterback Kerry Collins, who earned the Maxwell and Davey O'Brien awards. Engram also won the inaugural Biletnikoff Award, presented the nation's top wide receiver. The five Nittany Lion All-Americans marked the most since six were selected from the 1978 squad. 

The list of team and individual honors, awards, records and accomplishments could go on and on though, as summarizing such a successful season would be no simple task.

To be exact, a total of 14 program records were set by the 1994 team, while 19 were set by individually by the Nittany Lions. Averaging a record 48.1 points per game, Penn State led the nation in total offense at 520.2 yards per game and scoring offense with a 47.8 ppg average that ranked as the fourth-highest in NCAA history at the time. Penn State's 1994 squad remains the highest scoring in the last 100 years of the Big Ten Conference (all games) and at 48.1 ppg in conference games, the highest scoring ever in Big Ten games only.

The Nittany Lions racked up eight convincing wins to start the season, opening the year with a dominant 56-3 win at Minnesota and a 38-14 showing against USC before taking down No. 5 Michigan on the road, 31-24, to move to No. 1 in the rankings, followed by a 63-14 trouncing of Ohio State on Homecoming. The Nittany Lions inexplicably fell to No. 2 following the smashing of the Buckeyes, after No. 3 Nebraska beat No. 2 Colorado and the Huskers moved into the top spot in the AP poll. 

The Nittany Lions' fifth undefeated season under Coach Joe Paterno was not without a couple of "close" calls. The week after the win over No. 21 Ohio State, Penn State comfortably led Indiana, 35-14, late in the game and the vast majority of the starters were on the sidelines as the Hoosiers scored twice, including a "Hail Mary" pass on the final play of the game to make the final score, 35-29. The day after the win at Indiana, the coaches poll also dropped Penn State to No. 2 despite its 8-0 record and an offense that had scored at least 55 points in half its games thus far.

Penn State's ninth win came by way of one of the most memorable comebacks in program history, as the Nittany Lions rallied from behind by more than 20 points to clinch its first Big Ten Championship.

The deciding conference outing placed Penn State's prolific offense against an Illinois defense that entered the matchup ranked fourth nationally in total defense, allowing its opponents a mere 11.3 points per game. The Illini capitalized on two early Penn State turnovers to score two touchdowns and grab a 14-0 lead. Illinois added another touchdown to go up 21-0 at the end of the first quarter.

The Nittany Lions came storming back in the second quarter, moving the ball 99 yards in 11 plays, culminating in their first touchdown. Penn State followed with another touchdown to close the gap to 21-14, but Illinois answered to send the Nittany Lions into the locker room trailing, 28-14, at the half.

Penn State came out of the intermission with a touchdown on the first drive of the second half, but the Illini answered yet again, this time only with a field goal to pull ahead 31-21. Following a missed field goal attempt, the Nittany Lion defense held off Illinois as Penn State responded with a 17-yard pass from Collins to Engram on fourth-and-1 to give way to an eventual five-yard touchdown run to make it 31-28 Illini with less than eight minutes to play. 

From there, it's the number 96 that floods the minds of the passionate Nittany Lion fans. On the next drive, Collins led the Nittany Lions 96 yards down the drizzly field, going 7-for-7 for 60 yards before the Nittany Lions scored the game winner on a two-yard run by Brian Milne with 57 seconds on the clock. Kim Herring's end zone interception sealed the win and with one of the most memorable comebacks in program history and two more regular season conference wins over Northwestern and Michigan State, Penn State was headed to its first Rose Bowl in 72 years.

Penn State's 38-20 Rose Bowl victory against Pac-10 champion Oregon mirrored the impressive nature of the historical regular season. With the Nittany Lions making their first appearance since 1923, the Ducks, who had won the Pac-10, were making their first appearance in the "The Granddaddy of Them All" since 1958.

Penn State raced to an early lead with an 83-yard touchdown run by Carter on the Nittany Lions' first play from scrimmage. Although Penn State entered the locker room leading Oregon 14-7 at the half, a costly Nittany Lion turnover allowed the Ducks to convert a deficit into a 14-14 tie near the end of the third quarter. On the kickoff, it was Ambrose Fletcher who re-energized the Penn State offense, racing 72 yards on the kickoff return, which stands as the longest in program bowl history. Carter followed with a 17-yard run to put Penn State back on top, 21-14. 

The Nittany Lions capitalized on an Oregon interception, as Carter scored from three yards out for his third touchdown of the game. Penn State never looked back, cruising to the win with Carter finishing with 156 yards on 21 carries with three touchdowns to earn Co-Most Valuable Player honors with Oregon quarterback Danny O'Neil. Carter's 83-yard run also marked the longest in a Penn State bowl game and the third longest in Rose Bowl history at the time. Having already scored on 80-yard runs two other times earlier in the season, Carter still remains the only Nittany Lion in program history to produce three 80-yard touchdown runs in a single season. Carter was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 2014.

In the 1995 NFL Draft, Carter, Brady and Collins were among the first nine selections, at the time standing as just the third time a single school has had three top 10 choices since the draft began in 1970. Carter was the first overall selection by the Cincinnati Bengals, Collins was the No. 5 pick (Carolina) and Brady was No. 9 (New York Jets). 

The 1994 season was before the advent of the Bowl Championship Series, so the nation's No. 1 (Nebraska) and No. 2 (Penn State) teams did not have an opportunity to meet in the post-season to decide the national champion. Although the Nittany Lions finished No. 2 in the AP and Coaches' polls following the 1995 Rose Bowl, they were No. 1 in the final New York Times computer rankings and Sagarin rankings.

The incredible, undefeated 1994 season is one that is cemented in the history and legacy of Penn State Football forever.

Last Updated January 06, 2017