Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said at this week’s press conference that Penn State head coach Joe Paterno “embodies all that is good in college football.” Paterno’s team has also embodied “all that is good” on the field against Northwestern. Penn State leads the all-time series 10-3 and is 6-1 this year, but the ‘Cats (2-4) have kept games close this year and desperately need a win to revive their bowl campaign. Although the two teams met for the first time in 1993, the Nittany Lions and Wilcats have played a number of memorable games, including several when Coach Fitzgerald was on the field as a linebacker facing JoePa’s squad.
November 19, 1994 (University Park, Pa.): No. 2 Penn State 45, Northwestern 17: In the second-ever meeting between the two teams, Northwestern made the trip to Happy Valley to face a loaded Penn State team. With three future NFL top ten picks starring for the Nittany Lions’ offense (Kerry Collins, Ki-Jana Carter and Kyle Brady), Coach Paterno was able to guide his team to an important victory on their path to a 12-0 season and a Rose Bowl Victory (though Penn State finished second in the polls to Nebraska). The year 1994 also marked Penn State’s first Big Ten championship, as the Lions had joined the conference the previous season.
November 4, 1995 (Evanston, Ill.): No. 6 Northwestern 21, No. 12 Penn State 10: In a game with huge bowl implications for both teams, the 7-1 ‘Cats rode running back Darnell Autry to victory over the 6-2 Nittany Lions. Autry rushed for 139 yards and three touchdowns while breaking the Northwestern single-season rushing record with 1,339 yards (passing Bob Christian’s record of 1,291 set in 1989). With the win, the ‘Cats pushed their winning streak to seven games, its longest since 1936. It also left Northwestern in a tight race with No. 4 Ohio State for the Big Ten lead and a spot in the Rose Bowl. The Wildcats’ 1995 victory over Penn State is one of the most significant wins in Northwestern football history, as it would eventually help the ‘Cats improbably win Big Ten title.
November 2, 1996 (University Park, Pa.): No. 15 Penn State 34, No. 11 Northwestern 9: Northwestern came into this highly anticipated matchup with a 13 game Big Ten winning streak and a potential Rose Bowl bid on the line. But Penn State was the better team from the start, leading 14-0 after the first quarter and 27-3 at half time. Penn State had several big plays throughout the game, including a 63-yard touchdown pass to future NFL receiver Joe Jurevicius. The ‘Cats had no answer for Penn State’s explosive start, and dropped out of first place in the Big 10 and to 7-2 overall. The win, meanwhile, pushed Penn State to 8-2.
September 24, 2005 (Evanston, Ill.): Penn State 34, Northwestern 29: Northwestern started off hot against the 3-0 Nittany Lions, taking a 10-0 first quarter lead. The ‘Cats maintained a lead until the fourth quarter, when Penn State quarterback Michael Robinson ran for a touchdown to give his team a 27-26 lead. ‘Cats kicker Joel Howells kicked a 25-yard field goal with 2:10 left on the clock – his fifth field goal of the day (a Northwestern record) – putting the ‘Cats back in front. But Robinson brought Penn State quickly back down the field. With the ball on the 36 yard-line, Robinson scrambled away from a swarming Northwestern defense and found Derrick Williams for the touchdown with 51 seconds left. Northwestern couldn’t concoct any last-second miracles and lost the game, leaving the team at 2-2. Penn State somewhat unexpectedly won the Big Ten in 2005.
November 6, 2010 (University Park, Pa.): Penn State 35, Northwestern 21: With Northwestern at 5-2 and just a few votes short of being ranked, the ‘Cats had a great opportunity to add a quality win against a 5-3 Penn State team. But the day belonged to Penn State head coach Joe Paterno, who was vying for his 400th career victory. The ‘Cats came out strong as quarterback Dan Persa ran for two touchdowns and threw for another in the first half. But a 21-0 Northwestern lead late in the second quarter was not enough to top Penn State. Nittany Lion backup quarterback Matt McGloin rallied his team to victory, throwing four touchdowns as PSU scored 35 unanswered points. Penn State’s offensive linemen carried their legendary coach off the field as the fans in Happy Valley chanted Joe Paterno’s name.