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Penn State-Arkansas: A Look at Other First Meetings Between Penn State and SEC Schools

When Penn State and Arkansas play tomorrow, it will be the first meeting between the two schools. Here’s a history of other first meetings Penn State has had against SEC teams. 


Nov. 2, 1940, New Beaver Field, University Park, Pennsylvania 

Penn State 12, South Carolina 0

The Lions and Gamecocks have only met twice, with both meetings taking place in the years preceding the United States’s involvement in World War II. Penn State beat South Carolina in 1940 and ’41. 

In the first meeting, played at New Beaver Field before a reported 10,000 fans, the Nittany Lions scored six points in the first quarter and six more in the third on touchdowns by Huck Peters and Wilbur Van Lenton.

Bob Higgins’s Nittany Lions finished the year 6-1-1, with the only loss coming in the season finale at Pitt. 


Oct. 19, 1957, New Beaver Field, University Park, Pennsylvania 

Vanderbilt 32, Penn State 20

They’ve only played once, and despite James Franklin’s well-known connections to both schools, there are no indications of them playing again. 

Thus far, Vanderbilt has the first and only laugh.


Sept. 19, 1959, Memorial Stadium, Columbia, Missouri

Penn State 19, Missouri 8

The 1959 season is best remembered for the excellence of quarterback Richie Lucas. A native of Glassport, Lucas led the Lions to a 9-2 record, won the Maxwell Award and finished second to LSU’s Billy Cannon in the Heisman Trophy voting. 

Lucas’s magical season started in Columbia. Before 28,000 on a warm Missouri afternoon, “Riverboat” Richie completed 10 of 11 passes and threw for a touchdown in Penn State’s 19-8 win. 

Since then, Penn State and Missouri have met three times, with the Nittany Lions having a 3-1 record overall. The most famous meeting between the two teams took place in the 1970 Orange Bowl when Penn State capped off a second straight perfect season with a 10-3 win. 


DEC. 19, 1959, Philadelphia Municipal Stadium, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Penn State 7, Alabama 0

The Penn State-Alabama Series is best known for Bear Bryant’s success against Joe Paterno. The Bear went 4-0 against Joe Pa, with two wins coming in the Sugar Bowl and two in the regular season.

Paterno didn’t fare any better against Nick Saban, losing both games in a home-and-home series in 2010 and ’11. Penn State is 5-10 against Alabama overall but did win the first meeting. 

Lucas’s fantastic 1959 campaign ended six days before Christmas. On a windy day, the teams combined for just 68 yards passing, and Lucas left the game with an injured shoulder. Backup quarterback and future offensive coordinator Galen Hall took over and threw the game’s only touchdown to Roger Kochman on a fake field goal. 

It was Bryant’s second season at Alabama, so Paterno’s only win over the Bear came as an assistant coach. 


Dec. 29, 1962, Gator Bowl Stadium, Jacksonville, Florida

Florida 17, Penn State 7

The Lions and Gators have met three times in their history. All three have been bowl games played in Florida, and all three have been Gator wins. 

The first happened in one of Rip Engle’s later years as Penn State head coach. The Lions came in at 9-1 and ranked ninth, while Florida was 7-3 and lost its regular-season finale at Miami. 

But the Gators upset the Lions, and almost 60 years later, Penn State still searches for its first win over Florida. 


Dec. 4, 1971, Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tennessee 

Tennessee 31, Penn State 11

In his first six seasons as head coach, Joe Paterno had two undefeated teams at Penn State and was one win away from having a third. 

His Nittany Lions came into Knoxville ranked fifth in the nation with a 10-0 record. But any chance of a perfect season and national championship eviscerated. Tennesse pounded the Lions.

“We thought we could beat them good…,” Vols all-American linebacker Jackie Walker told reporters afterward, “but we didn’t think we could whip their tail.”

Penn State ended the season on a high note with a win over Texas in the Cotton Bowl. The Nittany Lions and Vols have met three times since that first game, and Penn State has won three of four, with the most recent edition happening in the 2007 Outback Bowl. 


Jan. 1, 1974, The Orange Bowl, Miami, Florida

Penn State 16, LSU 9

Penn State capped off its third undefeated season in five years under Joe Paterno with a dull win over LSU.

Despite the win not being climatic and despite Penn State again not being rewarded with a national championship, 1973 will always be remembered as one of the best years in Penn State history. A year that started with Joe Paterno turning down the New England Patriots ended with running back John Cappelliti becoming the school’s first (and still only) Heisman Trophy winner, and with Penn State going 12-0. Paterno stayed in State College for 38 more years. 


SEPT. 4, 1975, Beaver Stadium, University Park, Pennsylvania 

Penn State 10, Kentucky 3

In Penn State’s Sugar Bowl season of ’75, the Nittany Lions won their first-ever meeting with Big Blue. 

Before 60,225 at Beaver Stadium, Larry Suhey scored the game’s lone touchdown, and that, plus a Chris Bahr field goal and a stout defense, was all Penn State needed. 

The Lions and Wildcats have played five times since, with Kentucky winning three of those five. The schools played fairly recently, with the Wildcats beating Penn State in the 2019 Citrus Bowl. 


SEPT. 22, 1979, Beaver Stadium, University Park, Pennsylvania

Texas A&M 27, Penn State 14

Of Paterno’s 62 years coaching at Penn State, 1979 was one of the worst. 

In 1978, the Nittany Lions were one win away from a national championship. But a Sugar Bowl loss to Alabama sent Paterno into a tailspin, and perhaps his lack of focus partially explains why Penn State regressed to an underwhelming 8-4 record in 1979.

Penn State started the year ranked seventh and handled Rutgers 45-10 in the season opener. Next up was their first meeting with the Aggies, then of the Big Eight. The Aggies were 0-2 and fresh off a loss at Baylor, so Penn State fans probably didn’t think they had much to worry about.

They definitely weren’t sweating when Texas A&M fumbled on the game’s first play and fell behind 7-0 soon after. After that, however, it was all Aggies. 

Behind 184 rushing yards and three touchdowns from Curtis Dickey (one of those touchdowns was an 80-yard run), Texas A&M scored 27 unanswered points and stunned the Lions.

Since then, the teams have met three times, and Penn State has won all three games. The last two were in the Alamo Bowl, with the Nittany Lions topping the Aggies in their home state in 1999 and 2007. 


Jan. 1, 1983, Superdome, New Orleans, Lousiana 

Penn State 27, Georgia 23

It’s one of the most famous games in the history of either school.

Second-ranked Penn State took on top-ranked Georgia for the National Championship in the Sugar Bowl. The Bulldogs were favored, led by Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker at running back. 

Although Walker rushed for a more than respectable 103 yards, he hardly looked like the same beast college football fans had grown accustomed to seeing in the early 1980s and never broke a run longer than 12 yards at any point in the night. 

The signature play of the game– and maybe in Penn State history– was called “six-43.” Nittany Lions quarterback Todd Blackledge hit a diving Greg Garrity for a 47-yard touchdown that put the Nittany Lions up by two scores. 

Georgia got a late touchdown to cut its deficit to four, but Penn State held on and, finally, was No. 1 at the end of the season. 


Jan. 1, 1996, Tampa Stadium, Tampa, Florida,

Penn State 43, Auburn 14

On a soggy day in Tampa, it was not great to be an Auburn Tiger.

Penn State took care of business, scoring 27 points in the third quarter alone to pull away for a blowout win. The day belonged to Bobby Engram more than anyone else. In his last college game, the 1994 Biletnikoff winner went out in style with 113 receiving yards and two touchdowns. 

The Tigers evened the series seven years later by beating Penn State in the Captial One Bowl. The most recent meeting is one that is quite fresh for fans of both schools, being that it happened this season. Before a “Whiteout” crowd at Beaver Stadium, the Nittany Lions held off the Tigers or a 28-20 win. 

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