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Penn State Football: Changing History And The Outcome Of Five Big Plays In Program History

by on April 03, 2015 12:15 PM

In another corner of the web, the sports and news website Deadspin brought up a good question earlier this week.

If you could change the outcome of one play in sports history, what would it be?

Most people will probably go back to their favorite team's last chance to win a title. Or maybe a last second buzzer beater against a rival. If you could change history, it's hard to pick just one play. But still, it's fun to think about. Would changing that play have changed the outcome of the game? Sometimes the answer is yes, other times who knows?

On the Penn State side of things there are quite a few plays to choose from. Not all of them changing would have led to automatic success, but chances are an incompletion here or a missed field goal there would lead to a little less heartburn in Happy Valley.

So in no particular order, here are five plays we think most Penn State fans would change if they could.

1. Minnesota 4th-and-16, 1999

Most fans think of the field goal seconds after this play: a 32-yard lob shot down the middle by Dan Nystrom to upset the No. 2 ranked Nittany Lions. That play never happens though if not for a deflected (and then caught) pass by Arland Bruce on fourth-and-16. A Lavar Arrington sack and two incompletions set up the fourth down play that would change the course of the season.

Penn State would lose its next two games, but one has to imagine that might not be the case if the Nittany Lions came out on top against Minnesota.

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And before either of those two fateful plays, there was a  46-yard catch with 1:50 to play to set it all up, and Joe Paterno's decision to punt from the Minnesota 33 instead of try the long field goal. So lots of options here.

2. Kentucky pick-six, 1977

This one won't be as obvious to most: after going up 10-0 early in the game, Penn State had Kentucky on the ropes. But a 23-yard interception return for a touchdown turned the game and turned Penn State's easy win into a loss. Read any story about that afternoon and everyone agrees that the touchdown changed the momentum of the game.

Kentucky would go on to have an outstanding season after the win. Penn State would see that unexpected loss to the Wildcats turn out to be the only of the season. You can't say one play in the first half of a game is the difference in a game, but it's hard to argue that a 17-0 lead may have been too much for Kentucky. And if that's the case, there is a big 0 in the loss column for Penn State's 1977 campaign.

Undefeated seasons aren't easy to come by.

3. Iowa 31-yard field goal, 2008

Ranked No. 3 in the nation, Penn State was still probably going to be on the outside looking in of the national title game. Even so, a rainy afternoon in Iowa shouldn't have been as dramatic. A likely still injured Daryll Clark threw only his third interception of the season to set up an Iowa drive with 3:46 to play. A suspect pass interference call on third down extended the Hawkeye drive and a 31-yard field goal as time expired ended Penn State's title hopes.

4. Michigan & Mario Manningham, 2005

Maybe one of the wildest games Penn State football has ever been a part of, a 10 yard pass to Mario Manningham with a second left on the clock ended the Nittany Lions' undefeated streak. Penn State entered the game with national title hopes in mind and an undefeated record but walked away with a seventh straight loss to Michigan.

It was a back and forth game all day with Penn State taking the lead back in the final minute of play. This game will be remembered by many for two seconds being added back on the clock, but if not for the final play of regulation, all of the dramatics could have been overlooked. Penn State's 2005 season was still a memorable one, but all it took was a single second to change how things maybe could have gone.

5. Third-and-goal, 1979 Sugar Bowl

Plays in national title games don't get much bigger than this. On the one yard line with 6:44 to go, Penn State was stuffed over and over again looking to tie the game at 14-14 in the final quarter of play. Two straight runs were stopped by Alabama and it was a moment that will continue to be one of the biggest in the history of each program. It's hard to say Penn State would have won if the Nittany Lions had tied the game with plenty of time to go, but the stop was a backbreaker.

Miss a play? See your choice listed above? Vote in the poll.

POLL: Change History

What play would you change the outcome of?

Minnesota 4th-and-16
11%
Kentucky Pick-Six
0%
Iowa Field Goal 2008
7%
Mario Manningham
40%
Sugar Bowl Third-And-Goal
40%
Other
2%


Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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