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Penn State football: Best wins over 2023 opponents – Rutgers

It may have been a welcoming party to the Big Ten for Rutgers, but Penn State football certainly spoiled the occasion.



Penn State Football, Rutgers

Penn State football and Rutgers have a long history on the gridiron, one heavily titled in the Nittany Lions’ favor. The Penn State victories have mostly been in blowout fashion too. The Nittany Lions own a 31-2 all-time record against their neighbors in New Jersey. The Scarlet Knights’ lone victories came 35 years ago, during 5-6 seasons for both teams, and 70 years before that back in 1918.

Perhaps the most memorable moment in this series happened at the end of the 1995 matchup when then Rutgers head coach Doug Graber and Joe Paterno got into a shouting match. Graber had accused Paterno of running up the score, and some choice words were picked up by ESPN’s cameras. Due to the sheer amount of lopsided affairs in the series, picking Penn State’s win was quite easy. No doubt it was a close call during the 2014 season.

Welcome to the Big Ten, Rutgers

After the 1995 contest and the end-of-game controversy, the two teams would not meet again until the 2014 season. Before Rutgers joined the Big Ten, the two schools did have a home and home series scheduled as non-conference games for the 2014 and 2015 seasons. When it was later announced Rutgers would join the conference, the games would then be conference matchups.

The game in Piscataway was set for a primetime matchup on Big Ten Network. Some Rutgers fans rudely welcomed Penn State, acts the Rutgers AD would apologize for after the game. The sellout crowd was certainly juiced for this game. The attendance record set still stands today as the largest crowd in Rutgers history.

Nittany Lions spoil the Scarlet Knight party

This matchup was also the first Big Ten contest for James Franklin. The Nittany Lions had won Franklin’s debut in a classic game against UCF in Ireland, followed by a victory over Akron. Rutgers also entered the contest 2-0, with a cross-country victory over Washington in Seattle and a win over Howard.

As for the game itself, there was a feeling-out period in the first quarter, as the game was scoreless after one frame. The teams traded several punts, Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova threw his first two interceptions of the night, and Sam Ficken had a 34-yard field goal attempt blocked.

The scoring started early in the second quarter as Rutgers put together a solid 10-play 80-yard drive, capped by a 14-yard touchdown scamper by Nova. After more punts, Rutgers would add a field goal near the end of the first half to go into the break up 10-0.

The second half kicked off with more of the same, trading punts. Christian Hackenberg made his lone big mistake of the night, throwing an interception — no harm, no foul, as Nova threw his third pick on the very next play. The Nittany Lions then finally put together a decent drive, ending in a Ficken 32-yard field goal. After another three-and-out by Rutgers, the Nittany Lions cut into the Rutgers lead again with another field goal early in the fourth quarter.

Penn State’s defense comes up big

More punts and Nova’s fourth interception of the night followed. Still down 10-6 with about three minutes to play, the Lions were running out of time. Starting a drive at their own 20, Hackenberg threw high to Geno Lewis, who made a great catch and then broke off tacklers to scamper 53 yards.

The Lions were now in business inside the Rutgers 30-yard line. A few plays later, Penn State thought it had a go-ahead score when Hackenberg found tight end Jesse James in the end zone, but a holding call negated it. Facing a 3rd and 13, Hackenberg found Lewis again for 23 yards to the Rutgers six. Finally, two plays later, Bill Belton ran 5 yards untouched into the end zone. Rutgers had one more shot at it. But Nova’s fifth interception of the night four plays later ended Rutgers chances. Penn State survived and escaped the hostile environment with the victory.

The Scarlet Knights would have a slightly better season than Penn State football in 2014. Rutgers finished 8-5 with a victory in the Quick Lane Bowl. Penn State would finish 7-6 and a win in the Pinstripe Bowl, having bowl eligibility for the first time since 2011 with the NCAA sanctions lifted two years early. Since this night in Piscataway, the series has continued to be dominated by Penn State. The Lions have trended up, whereas Rutgers has mostly been at the bottom of the conference.

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Shane has been a Penn State fan since he attended his first game in Beaver Stadium when he was 8 years old. A Class of 2005 alum, he has been a contributing writer for Victory Bell Rings, Saturday Blitz and now Basic Blues Nation. He also hosts The Nittany and Badger: A Big Ten Football Podcast. Shane lives near Pittsburgh with his wife and son.


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