Penn State Bowl History: Sean Lee’s redemption and Tony Hunt runs wild on Tennessee in 2007 Outback Bowl

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A season removed from a run to a Big Ten championship, Penn State made a return trip to the Outback Bowl at the end of the 2006 season. And up against a Tennessee team that was ranked and believed to be the favorite, it was the Penn State fundamentals of a strong defense and dominant running game that led the Nittany Lions to pulling away for a double-digit victory against the favored Vols.

Head coach Joe Paterno watched the game from the press box as he was recovering from a broken leg suffered in a sideline collision earlier in the season.

Heading into the game, the popular suggestion was that Tennessee had better athleticism across its roster, and that would lift the Vols to a victory over Penn State. But Tony Hunt proved that sometimes it just pays to be bigger and stronger on the ground. Hunt rushed for 158 yards on 31 rushing attempts to pave the path to a 20-10 victory.

But this Penn State team was still very much reliant on its defensive successes. Against the Vols, Penn State forced three turnovers and Tennessee was held to a season-low 10 points in the game. After the game, Tennessee head coach Philip Fulmer noted Penn State played the exact kind of style you should expect against a team coached by Paterno.

“You play against Joe Paterno’s football teams, they’re going to be tough, they’re going to disciplined, they’re going to be able to run the football,” Fulmer said. “I knew that, having been there before. I learned some great lessons from him the last time. If we take care of the football better, at least it’s a more interesting game there at the end.”

For three quarters, it was a tight contest between the Nittany Lions and Vols. Tennessee opened the scoring with a field goal in the first quarter, and Kevin Kelly responded early in the second quarter to tie the game at 3-3-. Penn State took a 10-3 lead later in the second quarter when Anthony Morelli completed a short touchdown pass to tight end Andrew Quarless to cap a 92-yard drive.

Penn State’s lead did not make it to halftime, however. Out-muscling future NFL Pro Bowl linebacker Sean Lee, LaMarcus Coker sprung loose for a 42-yard touchdown run with a little over a minute before halftime.

After a scoreless third quarter, Tennessee was marching into position for a go-ahead score in the fourth quarter, but Tony Davis returned a Tennessee fumble, which was forced by Lee, 88 yards for a defensive touchdown to put the Nittany Lions in front for good. Kelly would later add a field goal to extend Penn State’s lead to 20-10 to seal the deal against the SEC opponent.

“I didn’t want to let our seniors down, and I felt like I was letting the whole team down playing like that,” Lee said after the game, reflecting on his forced fumble. “I knew I had to come out in the second half and make a big play. I had to make up for that play.”

With the win, Penn State improved to 3-0 all-time in the Outback Bowl. But their next trip, four years later, would not go as well. But this was Paterno’s 22nd all-time career bowl victory, extending his lead in the all-time bowl coaching victories list.

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