Defensive Tackle Tony Petruccio said the coaches had told the players not to think about Dorsett. But do you? "Sure." While the intent was to try to consider him just another back ("Play the man," advised Ducatte, "not the image. If you see a Heisman Trophy running at you, you're in trouble"), it was ironic that three subs who wore practice jerseys bearing No. 33 suffered a week of particularly hard licks.
Ron Crosby, a defensive end, said his hope was to get Dorsett before Tony got momentum. Said Crosby, "You can't make mental mistakes. If you do, all you'll do in a game is maybe get a chance to wave at him. But we know Dorsett will break one for 30 yards. So what?" The prevailing Penn State theory was: we don't have to play a perfect game to win; we know we can win and they only think they can.
The first three times Pitt got the ball, Dorsett was like a man in a rush-hour subway. In five carries he netted six yards. Penn State went ahead 7-0 when Quarterback Chuck Fusina, who grew up in a house on Hillcrest Avenue that overlooks Three Rivers Stadium, completed a 21-yard swing pass to Bob Torrey for the touchdown. State's ensuing kickoff bounced crazily on the damp Tartan Turf, Bob Hutton of Pitt finally falling on the ball back on the two-yard line. Two runs, one by Dorsett, gained only five, and it began to look as if Penn State might take over in Pitt territory, score again and—well, who knows what. But on third down Pitt Quarterback Matt Cavanaugh threw a long pass to the flashy Gordon Jones, who carried into State territory. The Panthers were off the hook.
Pitt failed to score on this penetration, but midway through the second quarter the Panthers moved to the State 13, thanks largely to another Cavanaugh-to-Jones pass. Burned by the pass, the Nittany Lions had to lay off Dorsett a bit. Trouble. He swept left end for two, right end for five and took a pitchout around left end for the touchdown.
The score was still 7-7 at halftime and Dorsett had only 51 yards, but there was an uneasy quiet in the Penn State dressing room. Said Ducatte, "There can be a we've-got-'em kind of quiet or a we-don't-have-'em kind of quiet. There's a fine line between them."
While Penn State was worrying, Pitt spent its intermission figuring out that in the first half Penn State had baffled the Panther attack by lining up head-on against Pitt's linemen and protecting the weak side with an extra linebacker—things never seen in a Nittany Lion game film. So the Panthers made their halftime adjustments, and they came out of the dressing room breathing fire—and in an unbalanced line that thoroughly confused the Penn State defenders. Twenty-five minutes' practice against this formation had not been enough. "From then on we were one step behind," said Penn State Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky. "Frankly, we didn't think they'd go unbalanced."
Not only did they go unbalanced, they added another wrinkle. Pitt put the split end and flanker on the tight-end side of the line, in effect giving Dorsett an extra blocker on strong-side sweeps. Penn State had to alter its defense, and just when it seemed that the Nittany Lions had figured it out, bingo!—Dorsett unveiled a new play, a counter to the weak side.
There was more. Noticing that holes were opening up briefly for his fullbacks, Pitt Offensive Line Coach Joe Avezzano convinced Majors to try Dorsett at fullback, for the first time, up close to those short-lived openings. The results were glowing. Dorsett for seven up the middle, Dorsett for three around end, Dorsett, at fullback, for—whoops!—40 up the middle and his second touchdown.
Dorsett, Dorsett, Dorsett. Penn State now had lost its poise and, early in the fourth quarter, the game. Elliott Walker, Tony's little-known backfield buddy, got loose over center on another quick opener for 12 yards and a touchdown early in the fourth quarter (21-7 now) as State's defensive line was being mauled. Moments later, Fusina, who had a jittery night, was intercepted for the third time. Carson Long, who missed three chances to win last year's game with field goals, kicked a 47-yarder that was true.
In the gloom of the dressing room, Paterno insisted, " Dorsett didn't beat us. The whole team did." Pause. "Ah, heck, I don't know what happened." What happened was Tony Dorsett.