This season–the 9-4 campaign of 2002–was an oasis in the sea of losing seasons known as “The Dark Years.” In particular, the Nittany Lions had this game circled on their calendars for more than a year.
The 2001 date in Charlottesville saw the Virginia Cavaliers come away with a 20-14 win, featuring at least one controversial fumble and a controversial offensive gameplan by Penn State. Most importantly, the Virginia victory knocked Penn State out of bowl eligibility, after the Lions roared back from an 0-4 start to win five of six before this game.
These 2002 Nittany Lions were a year older, a year better, and a year full of pent-up frustration knowing how close they came just a year earlier. The Cavaliers were in for what was expected to be a decent game. They were the youngest team in the nation, starting several freshmen, but came into Happy Valley boasting a 6-3 record. Penn State was three plays from a perfect record, settling for its own 6-3 record.