Quick start is no big deal

You'd think that an early lead would be the best thing that could happen to Tennessee in today's Outback Bowl match-up with Penn State. Based on historical precedent, though, it might be the WORST thing that could happen.

The Vols and Nittany Lions met in two previous bowl games. Each time Tennessee jumped to an early lead. Each time Joe Paterno's troops rallied from a slow start, dominated the second half and won handily.

To wit:

John Majors was Tennessee's head coach when the Vols and Nittany Lions squared off in the Fiesta Bowl Jan. 1, 1992 in Tempe, Ariz. Tennessee forged a 17-7 lead midway through the third period, then self-destructed. Penn State scored the game's final 35 points and romped 42-17.

The Vols dominated statistically that day – outgaining Penn State 441 yards to 226, piling up 25 first downs to 12 and running 88 offensive plays to just 65. Tennessee lost six turnovers, however, and PSU converted five of them into touchdowns.

Phillip Fulmer had been promoted to head coach by the time the Vols and Nittany Lions met two years later in the Citrus Bowl Jan. 1, 1994 in Orlando, Fla. Much like the 1992 meeting Tennessee jumped to a quick lead (10-0), then faded down the stretch. Up 13-10 in the second quarter, the No. 6 Vols allowed No. 13 Penn State to score the game's final 21 points en route to a 31-13 triumph.

The Vols played perhaps their worst game of the season that day. They were penalized 10 times for 79 yards and allowed Penn State to convert on 8 of 15 third-down tries. Nittany Lions quarterback Kerry Collins completed 15 of 24 passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns, while running back Ki-Jana Carter added 93 rushing yards and two more TDs.

Given that Penn State is a stronger running than passing team in 2006, you'd think Tennessee would gain a great advantage by building an early lead today in Tampa. Based on historical precedent, though, that might be playing right into the Nittany Lions' hands.

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