TAMPA -- Joe Paterno insisted all along that he needed his players and assistant coaches more than they needed him in the Outback Bowl.
Maybe the longtime Penn State coach was right.
With Paterno watching from the press box while recovering from a broken leg, Tony Hunt ran for 158 yards and Tony Davis returned a fumble 88 yards for a touchdown yesterday, leading the Nittany Lions to a 20-10 victory over No. 17 Tennessee.
Anthony Morelli threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Quarless and Kevin Kelly kicked two field goals for Penn State, helping Paterno -- the all-time leader in bowl wins -- get his 22d postseason victory.
"They need me like they need a hole in the head," Paterno said. "But I don't like it up there. It's not much fun."
Penn State (9-4) forced three turnovers in holding Tennessee (9-4) to a season-low point total, and the Nittany Lions improved to 16-6 in New Year's Day bowls under their 80-year-old coach.
"You play against Joe Paterno's football teams, they're going to be tough, they're going to disciplined, they're going to be able to run the football," said Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, who also lost to Penn State in the 1994 Florida Citrus Bowl.
"I knew that, having been there before. I learned some great lessons from him the last time. If we take care of the football better, at least it's a more interesting game there at the end."
Paterno broke his shinbone and tore two ligaments in his left knee in a sideline collision during a loss at Wisconsin Nov. 4. He watched Penn State's next game from home -- the first he had missed since 1977 -- and returned to Beaver Stadium to watch the season finale against Michigan State from the press box.
As late as Sunday, Paterno remained optimistic about being on the sideline for his record 33d bowl appearance, although he stressed he would only do so if he felt up to it physically and didn't think it would be a distraction to his players.
He wore his signature rolled-up khakis and blue-and-white Penn State jacket and spent a few minutes on the field during pregame warmups. He shook hands with Fulmer and other well-wishers before returning to the locker room.
Sloppy weather -- the game was played through intermittent rain -- contributed to Paterno's decision to join some of his assistants in a booth high above the field.
"And I got worried about whether I'd be able to stand for over three hours," the coach said, adding that he also consulted with Dr. Wayne Sebastianelli.
"He said why don't you go upstairs and if you feel you've got to come down, come down. I have a great staff. They've been with me a long time. . . . All I do is get in the way. I've got to yell once in a while so people think I'm earning my money."
The sometimes cantankerous coach was shown on television pounding his fist on a table when Kelly's 45-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left in the first quarter. The kicker later missed attempts of 54 and 50 yards with the score tied, 10-10.
Penn State viewed yesterday's game as a final opportunity to assess how far it has come since a lopsided loss to Notre Dame early in the season.
The Nittany Lions were more competitive in subsequent losses to Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin, and Paterno felt an opponent as highly regarded as Tennessee would be an excellent gauge of where his team is heading.