Unheralded Collins continues to pile up wins for Penn State

Penn State has a tradition of quarterbacks who lead the Nittany Lions to victory after victory without getting much credit. Kerry Collins fits that mold.

"Kerry Collins is playing as well as any quarterback has played for us," Joe Paterno said. "As long as he stays hot, we'll be a good offensive team."

Collins completed 14 of 16 passes for 328 yards and two touchdowns Saturday in a 55-27 victory over Rutgers (2-2). Penn State (4-0) moved from No. 5 to No. 4 and received three first-place votes in The Associated Press poll Sunday.

Collins has completed 56 of 79 passes this season, a 71 percent rate. He has eight touchdown passes and 934 yards. Paterno has pulled Collins out of each game after Penn State built large leads.

"He's doing a great job running the football team," Paterno said. "He's a real force in there."

Penn State has lost only twice since Collins took over as starter for John Sacca midway through last season. After losses to Michigan and Ohio State, Collins led Penn State to five straight victories, including a 31-13 Citrus Bowl defeat of Tennessee and NFL first-round draft pick Heath Shuler.

"Each week he is getting better and better," tailback Ki-Jana Carter said. "Everyone looks up to Kerry on the offense."

The Nittany Lions' nine-game winning streak is second in Division I behind only Auburn's 15 straight victories.

Paterno has compared Collins to Chuck Burkhart, who led Penn State to a 22-0 record in 1968 and 1969, despite throwing more interceptions than touchdowns.

But Collins is much more accurate, with only two interceptions this season.

On Penn State's national title team of 1986, All-American halfback D.J. Dozier and linebacker Shane Conlan took much of the attention from quarterback John Shaffer. In 1982, All-American tailback Curt Warner and receiver Kenny Jackson got much of the credit for Penn State's national title, overshadowing quarterback Todd Blackledge.

Collins, a fifth-year senior, also prefers to spread the praise.

"The offensive line has done a great job all year long," he said. "Guys are open. It's not like I'm making great throws every time."

Collins' top two targets are junior Bobby Engram with 18 catches and sophomore Freddie Scott with 17.

Engram made eight catches for 200 yards against Rutgers, including a 40-yarder that helped set up Penn State's first score.

In the third quarter, Collins called an audible and lobbed a pass to Scott, who caught it on the run and outraced two defenders for an 82-yard touchdown that made the score 41-20.

"Kerry read the coverage perfectly, threw a perfect ball, and I was determined to get it," Scott said.

Rutgers coach Doug Graber had his defense concentrate on Penn State's running attack, which is averaging 284 yards a game. After the game, he acknowledged that Collins made him pay.

"Obviously, he's an outstanding, poised, veteran quarterback playing with a lot of confidence," Graber said.

Collins said the team is not thinking about an Oct. 15 matchup at No. 7 Michigan (2-1) until after next week's game at Temple (2-1).

"We can't look past anyone," he said. "Anyone can trip you up."