Down 21-0 against Illinois, Penn State didn't worry. Trailing by three late in the game and pinned at their own 4-yard line against the Big Ten's best defense, the Nittany Lions were confident.
No. 2 Penn State has won 14 in a row, the longest streak in the nation, and the team is starting to think it can win in any situation.
"I think these kids have got that feeling that they will do what it takes to win a football game," coach Joe Paterno said Tuesday. "We've had some people do things in the clutch. The more you see that, the more you get that feeling that you could probably do that."
Penn State (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten) came through last week to beat Illinois 35-31. The Illini (6-4, 4-3) took advantage of two turnovers to build a 21-0 lead against a team that had never trailed by more than six all season.
"But even when we got that far behind, we never lost faith," guard Marco Rivea said. "We knew it was just a matter of time."
With his team trailing 28-14 at halftime, paterno didn't try to fire up his players with an emotional speech, instead he tried to calm them down.
"I said 'We're OK as long as everybody here stays tight, tends to their knitting and nobody gets uptight and thinks we have got to do something extraordinary in the second half to win it. Just play our game and we'll be OK.'"
The Nittany Lions still trailed 31-28 with 6:07 remaining when they took over at their own 4.
"In the huddle it was a calm mood, but confident," said fullback Brian Milne, who ran for three touchdowns including the game winner with 57 seconds left.
Kerry Collins, the nation's top-rated passer, was 7-7 on the winning drive.
"He was 13-for-15 in the fourth quarter, in the clutch," Paterno said. "You get all kinds of stats when things are going easy, but that's not the point. When it comes down to one guy you'd like to have on your team to win a tough football game right now, you'd have to tell me about somebody better than Kerry Collins."
The Nittany Lions remind Paterno of his 168-69 teams, which went 22-0. Paterno never felt that those teams were going to lose.
"I'm getting to that stage," wioth this team, he said.
"I think we're afraid to lose," linebacker Brian Gelzheiser said. "We've worked so hard to get where we are that we're afraid to lose it."
Although the Nittany Lions want to emulate the winning ways of the late 1960s, they don't want to be the fourth Penn State squad to go through a season unbeaten and untied and not win the national title.
Perhaps the comeback against Illinois will convince some pollsters that Penn State is No. 1, tailback Ki-Jana Carter said.
"I guess this shows them what kind of team we are," he said. 'This shows what kind of character we have."