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Rutgers’ series history with Penn State

We look back at several notable games between these two programs ahead of Saturday’s matchup.

Penn State v Rutgers Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Rutgers and Penn State have a very long history that dates back all the way to the first world war. Penn State leads the series 29-2 all time. There are too many games to break down all of them, most of them being losses, so I picked out a few that I thought were notable. Let’s take a look back.


The first time Rutgers and Penn State met on the gridiron was over a century ago. Led by Hall of Fame head Coach George Sandford and All-American Paul Robeson, the Rutgers Queensmen were a national powerhouse. They traveled to State College on November 9th (Rutgers football loves this date) with a 4-0 record. The Queensmen had not allowed a single point on the year as they had outscored their previous opponents 152-0. The meeting with Penn State was another domination as Rutgers cruised to a 26-3 victory.


The two schools did not meet again until 1950 when the Queensmen once again traveled to State College. Rutgers started the game strong and went into halftime with a 14-6 lead. The two scores came from Jim Monahan (member of the 1950 Rutgers College World Series team) and captain Rob D’Amato. The second half was a different story as Penn State roared back. Bob Pollard scored on a 1 yard run and then Tony Orsnini gave Penn State the lead with a 28 yard touchdown run. The Rutgers offense stalled in the second half largely due to a broken collar bone suffered by Monahan. Penn State got their first victory over Rutgers with a score of 18-14. An interesting note is that future head coach Joe Paterno was in his first year as an assistant at Penn State during this season.


From 1982-1995, Rutgers and Penn State met annually. Penn State had high expectations going into 1985 and especially after knocking off No. 7 Maryland in College Park to open the season. Rutgers had quite the season opener themselves as they went into Gainesville, Florida and went toe to toe with No. 5 Florida in a 28-28 tie. The two teams met at Giant Stadium in a late September showdown. The game was a rock fight but Penn State finally broke it open in the 4th quarter when Steve Smith ran for a 63 yard score giving the Nittany Lions a 17-3 lead. Rutgers did not give up as Joe Gagliardi found Bruce Campbell in the back of the end zone with 1:54 left. The onside kick failed and Penn State held on for a 17-10 victory. That same Nittany Lion team lost in the national championship to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl but would go on to win it all the following year by defeating Miami in the Fiesta Bowl.


Penn State was a national power that had dominated Rutgers on the field and in recruiting for years. Dick Anderson, a former Paterno assistant, was looking to get his first win over his old boss. The Scarlet Knights opened the game strong as Scott Erney found future First Base coach for the 2021 World Series Champion Braves Eric Young for a 38 yard touchdown. Mike Botti kept the Rutgers offense balanced as he had 18 carries for 112 yards and 2 touchdowns. Rutgers had a surprising 21-10 lead going into the 4th quarter but Penn State was in no way out of it. Starter Tom Bill was knocked out of the game so backup Tony Sacca from Delran, New Jersey was called on to lead the comeback. He orchestrated a 90 yard touchdown drive that cut the lead to 21-16. With only 3 minutes remaining, Sacca led another long Penn State drive all the way down to the Rutgers 3 yard line. They did not gain another yard. The stifling Rutgers defense was able to stuff Penn State on two straight run plays. On third down, Sacca rolled out on a play action fake and saw a wide open Dave Jakob in the end zone but overthrew the ball. On fourth down, Sacca once again scrambled to his right and threw it to the corner but it was too far for Michael Timpson. It was a goal line stand for the ages as Rutgers had finally defeated the mighty Nittany Lions in their own den.


In their final matchup until Rutgers joined the BIG, Penn State steamrolled Rutgers at Giants Stadium 59-34. The game was an offensive showcase for Penn State as quarterback Wally Richardson and running back Curtis Enis torched the Scarlet Knights all night. However, the actual playing is not what is remembered most about this particular game. With the game out of reach and only 1:20 left in the game, backup quarterback Mike McQueary hit a wide open Chris Campbell for a 42 yard touchdown. When the two head coaches met at the center of the field, Rutgers coach Doug Graber had a few choice words for Paterno about that particular play. Paterno became extremely angry by whatever Graber said and was restrained by other members of his staff. Here is a video of the handshake


This game was a build up of many storylines. Rutgers was playing in their first conference game as a member of the BIG. They were finally renewing their series with Penn State and the game would not be played in a half empty Meadowlands. It was in Piscataway in front of a raucous sold out crowd. In the weeks leading up to the game, a lot of different comments were made by players that only fueled the fire. New Jersey native and Penn State running back Bill Belton told reporters that he went to Penn State because he wanted to play “big time football”. This ruffled a lot of Rutgers players feathers.

The game itself was a slugfest. Rutgers went into halftime with a 10-0 lead after Gary Nova ran one in for a score and the special teams blocked not only a punt but also a field goal. The Rutgers offense was not able to give the knockout punch and it allowed Hackenberg and the Nittany Lions to stay within striking distance despite being dominated by the Rutgers defense. With under 3 minutes in the game, Rutgers held a 10-6 lead and Penn State had the ball on their own 20 yard line. Hackenberg threw a quick pass to Geno Lewis who broke one tackle and bolted down the sideline all the way to the Rutgers 27 yard line. Later on in the drive, Hackenberg threw a dart for a touchdown but it was called back for holding. This put Penn State in a critical 3rd and 12. Hackenberg threw a perfect throw to Geno Lewis who caught the ball in between two Rutgers defenders. Bill Belton got the last laugh and stormed into the end zone from 5 yards out to give Penn State a 13-10 lead. Gary Nova threw his fifth interception of the game on the next drive and the Nittany Lions escaped Piscataway victorious.


Rutgers was in the middle of one of the worst seasons in their history as they traveled to State College for their annual game with Penn State. Led by Johnny Langan at quarterback, the outgunned Scarlet Knights fought valiantly and kept the game in reach deep into the 4th. The 10th ranked Nittany Lions proved to be too much and came away with a 27-6 win. But this game will always be remembered as the day Johnny Langan showed why he is one of the heart and souls of this team. At one point in the game he was seen bleeding from his mouth, yet he continued to be the most physical player on the field.


Last year’s meeting was one that showed how big the talent gap is between these two teams. From the very start, Penn State dominated the line scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The Rutgers offense could not get anything going and Penn State was moving the ball at will. It was 20-0 when Christian Izien got a much needed interception which set up Rutgers in great field position. Vedral found Bo Melton on a 4th and Goal desperation heave that cut the Penn State lead to 20-7. That was the only bright spot of the day for Rutgers as Penn State did not allow a point after that. They left Piscataway with their second win of the year, 23-7.

Rutgers travels to State College this weekend to try and put an end to a 14 game losing streak to Penn State. Some are saying they are catching them at the perfect time. We will have to wait and see.