Penn State will play Georgia in the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., Jan. 2. It will be the Nittany Lions’ fifth appearance in the game — which was previously called the Gator Bowl — but first since 1976.
Nevertheless, PSU has significant historical ties to the game. Check out our recaps of the previous trips to Jacksonville for the lowdown. Special thanks to Lou Prato’s excellent “Penn State Football Encyclopedia” (available on Amazon) for some of the details. Other info comes from game box scores.
Penn State 30, Georgia Tech 15
Difficult as this may be to believe for the younger generation, Nittany Lion Hall of Fame defensive lineman Dave Robinson was the first African-American to play in the Gator Bowl. Florida was still segregated at the time, and when an Orlando airport restaurant refused to serve Robinson, all of his teammates showed solidarity by walking out with him.
In the game, Bobby Dodd-coached Tech took a 9-0 lead on a first quarter safety and second-quarter 68-yard run by Joe Auer. But then Galen Hall — yes, THAT Galen Hall — took over for the Lions.
Hall threw touchdown passes to Al Gursky and Roger Kochman to put PSU in front 14-9 at the break. State owned the second half to win easily, 30-15.
As for Robinson? Well, he dominated on both sides of the ball. He caught four passes for 40 yards. And in the third quarter, he hurdled the Tech offensive line and slammed QB Billy Gann to the ground. Gann fumbled and Robinson recovered.
Florida 17, Penn State 7
Turnovers were the Nittany Lions’ undoing in their return to Jacksonville. Penn State fumbled four times — losing three — and Pete Liske threw a pick in the third quarter that the Gators eventually turned into a touchdown that accounted for the final score.
Penn State 17, Florida State 17
This game is most memorable because it led to a story PSU Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno told for decades. Only in his second year at the helm at the time, Paterno had anything but the conservative approach for which he’d become known later in his career.
This was Paterno’s first bowl as head coach, and the Lions raced out to a 17-0 lead at the half.
In the third quarter — still pitching a shutout and facing a fourth-and-inches from his OWN 15 — Paterno decided to go for it. QB Tom Sherman was stuffed while trying to sneak for the first down.
Of course, FSU turned the great field position into a quick touchdown. Then, following a Lion fumble, the Seminoles tallied another TD to draw within 17-14. A fourth-quarter field goal tied it 17-17, and that’s the way the game ended.
At the time, Paterno tried to rationalize the call by saying it showed “courage” on his part. But his actions for most of the rest of his career — not to mention comments to the media in more casual environments — indicated he learned a lesson that day in Jacksonville.
It should be noted, however, that Paterno and Penn State followed up that season-ending tie by winning their next 23 games, stretching into the 1970 season. Even with the tie, the Lions had a 31-game winning streak.
Notre Dame 20, Penn State 9
This was the first meeting between the two storied programs since — drum roll, please — 1928. And if you’re thinking, “I’ve never heard much about this game,” well, there is a reason for that.
It was a dog, especially for the Lions.
Neither team had more than 275 yards of total offense. But Dan Devine’s Notre Dame squad made the most of its possessions, taking a 20-3 lead into the locker room.
State got a late fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Chuck Fusina to Matt Suhey (the try for two failed) to account for the final score.
But this game served as another springboard for Paterno’s troops. The Nittany Lions went on to win 23 of their next 26 games. One of the losses was in the national title game — to Alabama in the 1979 Sugar Bowl.
BONUS GATOR BOWL REFERENCE
Penn State also received an invitation to play in the Gator Bowl after gong 6-4 in 1964, too. Everyone assumed it was a done deal. Engle allowed the players to vote on whether to attend, something that in previous years had been a formality. But in this instance, they voted against it.