The last time that Penn State played Kentucky was in 1999. It was 16 days shy of my 6th birthday. I obviously do not remember the match-up. Due to the game taking place on the first day of 1999, let’s see what the headlines were of 1998. Joe Paterno was the head coach of the Nittany Lions. Victoria Beckham (aka Posh Spice) and David Beckham got engaged. Elton John was “knighted” by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. The first mass-produced portable MP3 player was introduced. Seinfeld said goodbye. As you can see a lot of things happened that year. Let’s look at Penn State vs. Kentucky through the ages.
Penn State vs. Kentucky Through the Ages
As you can see, a lot has happened since Penn State last played Kentucky. We have evolved beyond the MP3 player. Victoria and David Beckham are still married, thank goodness. She is no longer Posh Spice and does not play soccer. Further, Seinfeld is still played daily, but through re-runs. Finally, Penn State is coached by James Franklin.
Penn State vs. Kentucky started in 1975. Joe Paterno’s squad finished the season 9-3, with a loss against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Before the Cotton Bowl, Penn State knocked off Kentucky in Happy Valley in the middle of a six-game win streak. The Nittany Lions won the first contest between the schools 10-3. The 1976 match-up did not go as well for Penn State. Nursing a two-game losing streak, the Nittany Lions ventured to Kentucky. The losing streak extended to three. Kentucky beat Penn State 6-22 in 1976.
The 1977 season was a good one for Penn State. The Nittany Lions ended the ’77 season 11-1. That one loss? Kentucky. Penn State lost a close one to the Wildcats 20-24 in Happy Valley. That was the last loss against Kentucky though. Penn State bounced back in ’78. Again finishing the season 11-1, with a big 30-0 win against Kentucky in the middle. That was the last regular season meeting between the two schools. Penn State would not face the Wildcats again until 1999.
Penn State vs. Kentucky Through The Ages Continues: 1999
After a little over 20 years, Penn State and Kentucky met again. This time in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Florida. That meeting ended with Penn State on top 26-14. The Nittany Lions finished the 1998 season 9-3. The 1999 Outback Bowl match-up produced the first sold out crowd in Outback Bowl history. Tim Couch started hot for the Wildcats. He scored touchdowns on Kentucky’s first two possessions. Those two touchdowns from Couch were the last points scored by the Wildcats that day. Penn State cut that lead to one going into the half. Before the game was done, Penn State scored 26 unanswered points.
Couch threw for 336 yards in the 1999 Outback Bowl and two touchdowns, but was sacked five times and threw two picks. Two of those sacks came from Courtney Brown to thwart a possible Kentucky comeback. Brown was named the Outback Bowl MVP for his performance. Couch became the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft. Further, Penn State standouts, Brown and linebacker LaVar Arrington went No. 1 & 2 overall in the 2000 NFL Draft.
The 1999 Outback Bowl had many good players on both sides of the ball, much like the 2019 Citrus Bowl.
2019 Citrus Bowl
Who: Penn State vs. Kentucky
When: Tuesday, January 1st at 1:00pm ET
Where: Orlando, Florida; ABC network
After 20 years without meeting, Penn State and Kentucky will play in the 2019 Citrus Bowl on January 1st. There are several players to watch, namely Penn State’s signal caller Trace McSorley and the defensive player of the year, Kentucky’s Josh Allen.
Trace McSorley has already broken nearly every record available to him at Penn State. His final game in the iconic blue and white will be in the Citrus Bowl and he has the ability to break a few more Penn State records. He needs 84 rushing yards on January 1st to pass Michael Robinson. Further, one more rushing touchdown would tie McSorley with Robinson for most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a season with 12.
McSorley’s abilities are not lost on Kentucky’s defense. Linebacker Josh Allen stated in bowl prep, “When [McSorley] starts to scramble, he can throw the ball effectively down the field.” Further, Allen said, “He knows how to get out the pocket when he feels pressure.” Allen emphasized the need for the defense to converge on McSorley and inhibit his ability to make things happen with his legs. Kentucky defensive coordinator, Matt House, also noted McSorley’s ability to win. Winning is McSorely’s only goal in the Citrus Bowl. “You’re coming here, at the end of the day, to play and win a football game,” he said during practice. The senior will be ending his Penn State career with his 40th consecutive start.
Penn State’s offensive line will have their work cut out for them against linebacker Josh Allen. Allen has 84 total tackles, 18.5 for loss, and 14 sacks this season. Penn State head coach James Franklin has praised the Kentucky linebacker for his size and strength. Penn State’s offensive line made strides this season, but will have to be nearly perfect to deal with Allen and company. The o-line gave up 25 sacks this season, nine of which came against Michigan and Ohio State alone. Overall, not bad for a group that has struggled over the last five years. Franklin has already stated that Allen will be a priority for his offense. Hopefully all the focus will translate to the field.
What Penn State has to do to win
The offensive line must contain Josh Allen and company to open lanes for Miles Sanders and give McSorley time to find receivers.
If Penn State can put together a complete game and continue to compete for four quarters, there is no reason that the Nittany Lions should not come to Happy Valley with a win.