Throughout the course of his legendary career, Penn State head coach Joe Paterno finished undefeated five times. The final time was capped on this day a quarter century ago against Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
In just their second season in the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions were 11-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country as they arrived in Pasadena on Jan. 2, 1995. At 9-3, No. 12 Oregon, under head coach Rich Brooks, was in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1957. For more than a half, the Ducks gave Penn State all it wanted, but in the end, it was not enough as Paterno’s team prevailed, 38-20.
With No. 1 Nebraska topping Miami in the Orange Bowl the day prior, Penn State needed to win convincingly if it had any hopes of winning the national championship. Penn State running back Ki-Jana Carter wasted no time setting the tone.
On Penn State’s first play from scrimmage, Carter raced 83 yards up the gut to get the scoring started. It took just four plays and less than a minute for Oregon to answer as quarterback Danny O’Neil completed four straight passes, including three to tight end Josh Wilcox and the 1-yard touchdown strike to knot the score.
From there, the defenses would settle in for the remainder of the half. The lone other score of the first half was a 1-yard plunge for a touchdown from fullback Brian Milne with less than 90 seconds to play in the second quarter as Penn State took a 14-7 lead into the locker room. The Ducks marched deep into Penn State territory late in the half, but without any timeouts, the clock expired with Oregon at the 5-yard-line.
After an interception of Kerry Collins by Oregon linebacker Reggie Jordan with less than five minutes to play in the third quarter set the Ducks up in the red zone, Oregon again drew even as O’Neil found Cristin McLemore for a 17-yard touchdown. From there on however, it was all Penn State.
Ambrose Fletcher returned the ensuing kickoff 72 yards inside the Oregon 25-yard-line. It took Carter just two carries to find the end zone and put Penn State back in front on a 17-yard touchdown run. Less than two minutes later, Carter was in the end zone again for his third touchdown of the day — a 3-yard run — after safety Chuck Penzenik intercepted O’Neil for the second time and returned it 44 yards inside the Ducks’ 15.
Penn State would score 24 unanswered points as a field goal from Brett Conway and a 9-yard touchdown run from Jon Witman in the fourth quarter put the finishing touches on the victory. The Ducks would find the end zone once more with less than three minutes to play when Ricky Whittle scored from three yards out.
O’Neil had a record-setting day at the Rose Bowl with 456 yards through the air on 41-for-61 passing. Carter finished the day with 156 yards rushing on 21 carries to go with the three scores. Oregon finished with 501 yards of offense to 430 for Penn State, but was held to 45 yards rushing while giving up 228 yards on the ground to the Nittany Lions.
Unfortunately for Penn State, the voters would overwhelmingly tab Nebraska as the No. 1 team in the final polls of 1994. Penn State would not win the Big Ten again until 2005 and would not play in another Rose Bowl until 2008. It remains the last Rose Bowl win for the Nittany Lions and it happened on this day 25 years ago.
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