Penn State’s Greatest Seasons: 2005

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 3: Quarterback Michael Robinson
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 3: Quarterback Michael Robinson /

After several down years, Penn State had a resurgence in 2005, all the way to a Big Ten championship

In five seasons between 2000 and 2004, the Nittany Lions went a combined 26-33, including four losing seasons. The only bright spot was 2002 where the Lions went 9-4 and running back Larry Johnson Jr. rushed for over 2000 yards. This time period has come to be known as the “Dark Years” among Penn State fans.

There was restlessness among the alumni and fans, many speculating that the game had passed by Joe Paterno. There were calls for him to step down, however, he stayed on, feeling that the team was close to being a contender.

The 2005 season would be nothing short than a spectacular resurgence.

A new-look offense and a hungry defense

Penn State returned 18 starters and the offense was led by quarterback Michael Robinson.  Shuffled around as a wide receiver, running back, and punt returner, Robinson finally had his chance to play full-time quarterback.

The team also added some highly touted freshman to the roster. True freshmen Derrick Williams and Justin King joined the redshirt freshmen Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood. There was a lot of talent on the team, in addition to running back Tony Hunt. They were all ready to make an immediate impact with Penn State’s new offensive look.

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Despite the poor results on the field, the defense in 2004 was not the problem. They were one of the best units in the country in points allowed, giving up only 15.3 per game. Tamba Hali, Alan Zemaitis and Paul Posluszny were hungry to prove the doubters wrong.

A road trip comeback and one of the best games in Beaver Stadium history

Penn State started the season unranked and had their first three games at home.  They looked sluggish in victory against South Florida, but handled Cincinnati and Central Michigan with ease.  Next came a trip to Evanston to face Northwestern.  The Lions would turn the ball over four times on the day and would find themselves trailing 29-27 with about two minutes to go.  Facing a fourth-and-15, it looked all but over.  However, Robinson delivered a first-down strike to tight end Isaac Smolko and a few plays later, delivered a 37-yard lob to Derrick Williams where he ducked under the defender and ran into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown

The following week, the Lions put a clinic against 18th-ranked Minnesota, 44-14.  They would be ranked for the first time that season and would welcome sixth-ranked Ohio State to Beaver Stadium.

ESPN College Gameday was there for the primetime clash and the atmosphere was electric.  (Video courtesy of LBUvideos)

So close to perfect

The Lions were 6-0 and headed to Ann Arbor next to take on a three-loss Michigan team.  It might have been a hangover from the Ohio State game, but the Lions did not look good.  The Wolverines held the Lions to three points through three quarters of play, but Penn State finally got in the endzone to tie it at 10 early in the fourth quarter.

The score would be tied at 18 when both teams had touchdowns capped by two-point conversions.  Michigan added a field goal, but Robinson would lead the Lions on a touchdown drive to put them ahead 25-21.  With less than a minute to go, it looked like Penn State would escape.

However, Michigan would score the game winning touchdown with no time left on the clock.

Despite the setback, Penn State would not be deterred from their goal of winning a Big Ten championship.  They would beat Illinois and Purdue the next two weeks, followed by a surprisingly easy victory over No. 14 Wisconsin.  Now, all that stood between them and their goal was a game versus Michigan State.  The Lions got the victory over the Spartans and thus earned their first Big Ten title in 11 years.  This video sums up the regular season and is one of my favorite Penn State videos (courtesy of vinnymckee).

A thriller in Miami

Penn State was 10-1 and ranked third in the country.  They would face the champions from the ACC, Florida State, in the Orange Bowl. The Seminoles had four losses, but they had the athleticism to contend with the Lions. This match-up would be the last meeting between Paterno and Bobby Bowden.

Penn State would score first in the opening quarter, but Florida State would bounce back with an 87-yard punt return for a score and add another on a 57-yard pass. However, the Nittany Lions managed to block the extra point. The Lions would have one last drive in the first half, and they scored when Robinson found Ethan Kilmer on a 24-yard pass. Penn State led at the break 14-13.

After a scoreless third quarter, Penn State would got a safety, but Florida State evened it up with a field goal.  Penn State had a chance to end it in regulation, but Kevin Kelly missed a field goal.

In the first overtime, both Kelly and Seminole kicker Gary Cismesia missed field goals.  In the second overtime, the game remained tied after both teams scored touchdowns.

Next: Penn State Player Profile: Shareef Miller

Finally in the third overtime, Cismesia would miss another field goal, but Kelly would hit his attempt.  After over four hours of play, the Lions were Orange Bowl champions and their season of restoration was complete.