One And Only: The Clash Of Penn State And Georgia In The 1983 Sugar Bowl
It was announced on Sunday that Penn State would head to the TaxSlayer Bowl to take on the Georgia Bulldogs on January 2, 2016. While both programs have illustrious histories, the two have come face to face just once. The first and only time these two powerhouse teams met was at the 1983 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, LA, which is now known as Penn State and Joe Paterno’s first National Championship.
The start of the 1982-83 season for the Nittany Lions had its ups and downs. After opening the season with a 4-0 record, including a win against No. 2 Nebraska at home, Paterno and his team took an ugly 42-21 loss to Alabama. After its loss to the Crimson Tide, Penn state went on a roll as it won six in a row en route to a 10-1 regular season record and a No. 2 ranking.
During the 1982 season, Sugar Bowl representatives were perplexed in determining whether they should invite Penn State or Pitt. Both teams were two of the most popular and successful programs at the time. Luckily for the Sugar Bowl, Penn State made the decision easier with a 19-10 victory over No. 5 Pitt in the final game of the season.
Sitting at No. 2 in the country, Paterno and his Nittany Lions were given the invitation to play in the 1983 Sugar Bowl. Paterno’s eagerness to play top-level opponents weighed heavily on his decision to accept the invitation to play in the Sugar Bowl, as his team was slated to play No. 1 Georgia.
On the other side of the ball, Georgia flew past its opponents and quickly rose up the rankings to become the No. 1 team in the country. The Bulldogs opened the season with their best win of the season, a narrow 13-7 victory over No. 11 Clemson.
After defeating Clemson, Georgia didn’t face another ranked opponent and ended the regular season 11-0. The Bulldogs’ regular season dominance designated them as the best team in the country, and eventually led them to the National Championship game against No. 2 Penn State in the 1983 Sugar Bowl.
The 1983 Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome brought many great story lines. This game was the sixth time in bowl history that a No. 1 and No. 2 team would face each other. Another story was the battle between Joe Paterno and Georgia head coach Vince Dooley, two of the most compelling figures in college football at the time.
The Nittany Lions started the game off strong with the first score of the game, a nice two-yard touchdown run by Curt Warner to go up 7-0. After going into the second quarter up 7-3, a field goal followed by another Warner touchdown run put Penn State up over Georgia 20-3. Georgia responded to Warner’s touchdown with a touchdown of its own to put the game at 20-10 before halftime.
Georgia went into the second half confident as it capped off an 11-play, 69-yard drive with a Herschel Walker touchdown run to cut Penn State’s lead to 20-17. Walker’s touchdown was the only score in the third quarter and kept the game at 20-17 heading into the fourth quarter. In the fourth, Penn State gained some momentum thanks to a 47-yard touchdown strike from Todd Blackledge to Gregg Garrity that would later be known in Penn State football history as “The Catch.” Penn State lead Georgia 27-17 just looking to hold on and secure a National Championship.
The game looked more and more like it was going in Penn State’s favor, but Georgia wouldn’t go away without a fight. The Bulldogs took advantage of a muffed punt by the Nittany Lions with a touchdown to cut the lead to 27-23. Dooley and the Bulldogs didn’t want to settle for overtime if they could later tie the game with a field goal, so they went for two instead of the extra point. At the two-yard line, Herschel Walker’s attempt for the end zone was denied by the powerful Penn State defense. Walker’s failed two-point conversion set the Nittany Lions up to run out the clock and take their first National Championship under Joe Paterno.
Penn State and Georgia have only met on the field once, but that game goes down as one of the most impressive games in Nittany Lion history. The game was highlighted by Penn State legends like Curt Warner and Todd Blackledge, as well as Georgia legend and Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker. Even though the TaxSlayer Bowl doesn’t have the significance of the 1983 Sugar Bowl, it is still a great matchup and a chance to reflect on two storied programs.