Richardson makes his lasting impression for now, reminiscent of another Lion QB

Bobby Engram remembered. So did Joe Paterno, Marco Rivera, and the defensive unit standing alongside, with hands clasped, awaiting the outcome. They all remembered.

Whether in outward shouts of jubilation, or with heads bowed in prayer near midfield, many of the 1995 Nittany Lions had seen this script unfold before.

As quarterback Wally Richardson engineered the game-winning, Outback Bowl-clinching, season-saving drive Saturday at Spartan Stadium, teammates, coaches, and even Richardson himself were reminded of Kerry Collins' historic march to glory against Illinois in 1994.

"The last two minutes I've seen in Wally what I saw last year in Kerry," Rivera said. "The way he took control, called his own plays, got to the huddle and threw the ball well. I'm expecting a lot of things from him next year."

Though the legendary situation from the perfect season will live forever in Lion lore, it was a game against the same opponent at the very same site, that many believe spurred Collins to future greatness.

The similarities between two quarterbacks, two games, two years apart are almost eerie.

Trailing 37-17 late in the third quarter of the 1993 regular-season finale, the first-ever pick of the Carolina Panthers awoke -- with Engram's help. A 40-yard touchdown bomb to the All-American brought Penn State within 13.

On Saturday, a 53-yard hookup from Richardson to Engram knotted the score.

"I think Wally grew up a little," Engram said. "It was just Wally and us, and he was guiding us down the field. This was the same scenario two years ago -- Kerry grew up. I'm hoping that Wally makes the same transformation."

The long fourth-quarter connection was perhaps Richardson's most important toss to date. Under the pressure of seven men blitzing him with reckless abandon, the quarterback unloaded the throw, deep down the sideline in the direction of the split end Paterno called "the best I've ever been around."

Recognizing the blitz, he realized Engram was isolated in one-on-one coverage. The pass was where it needed to be, and when Engram turned for the ball, he thought touchdown.

On the final drive, facing a third-and-two situation, Richardson found Engram. Five plays later, Engram found the end zone. Though his four-yard game-winner was considerably shorter than his 52-yard catch that gave Penn State a 38-37 win two years ago, it was just as dramatic.

"I was standing on the bench, wandering all over the place," defensive tackle Brandon Noble said. "I was praying and God heard me. I never lose any confidence in them. I know the kind of kid Wally is, and I know he could handle the situation."

While Noble's faith in the quarterback is evident, criticism of Richardson has been rampant this fall. Pundits have complained about his inability to read blitzes and overthrows of receivers. In the final two minutes on Saturday, skeptics were silenced.

The pressure applied from those far removed from the gridiron was familiar territory for Collins. He was analyzed, critiqued, and dissected, with many writing him off as a disappointment. But the Michigan State performance in 1993 sparked a turnaround.

The budding NFL star was steadfast in his resolve, ignoring critics and relying on faith in his ability -- a trait his successor has similarly adopted.

"I don't let it bother me, people are always talking," Richardson said. "You're not going to please everybody. That's something I have no control over. I'm always going to go out there and give my best for the team."

Collins followed the outing in East Lansing by outclassing Heath Shuler and Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl. Richardson will have his shot in the Outback Bowl, most likely against Patrick Nix and Auburn.

He's hoping these similarities continue.