John Clay

A (somewhat) familiar foe: A game-by-game history of Kentucky vs. Penn State

UK’s Mike Edwards and Kash Daniel discuss Citrus Bowl preparations

University of Kentucky football players Mike Edwards and Kash Daniel addressed questions from the media on Friday as the Wildcats continued preparations for their Citrus Bowl game in Orlando, Fla., on New Year's Eve against Penn State.
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University of Kentucky football players Mike Edwards and Kash Daniel addressed questions from the media on Friday as the Wildcats continued preparations for their Citrus Bowl game in Orlando, Fla., on New Year's Eve against Penn State.

Prior to this year’s Citrus Bowl, Kentucky and Penn State have met five times, starting with a four-game series from 1975 through 1978. The two teams split the four games. They met again in the Outback Bowl at the end of the 1998 season. Penn State won that postseason meeting to take a 3-2 lead in the series.

Oct. 4, 1975: Penn State 10, Kentucky 3

The two schools signed a four-year, home-and-home contract that began with this game at University Park in 1975. Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions entered the game ranked 10th in the country and held on for a 10-3 win over Fran Curci’s Wildcats before a crowd of 60,225 at Beaver Stadium.

Penn State quarterback John Andress completed passes of 15, 13 and 28 yards to set up Larry Suhey’s 1-yard run in the second quarter to give the home team a 7-0 lead. Chris Bahr’s 20-yard field goal later in the second quarter extended the lead to 10-3.

UK’s defense ended up intercepting Andress three times, but the Wildcats’ offense could get little going. Down 10-3, Kentucky drove to the Penn State 14-yard line with 2:44 left. But three running plays netted 4 yards and quarterback Derrick Ramsey’s fourth-down pass fell incomplete in the end zone.

A side note: Andress’s father suffered an apparent heart attack at the stadium and was taken to the hospital, but Paterno chose to keep the news from his quarterback until after the game. Penn State would finish the year 9-3 with a loss in the Sugar Bowl. Kentucky ended up 2-8-1.

Oct. 2, 1976: Kentucky 22, Penn State 6

UK gained revenge with a key victory over the Nittany Lions by holding Penn State to just 212 total yards, including 61 rushing, at Commonwealth Stadium.

Kentucky’s defense forced several turnovers to set up the UK offense. Rick Hayden recovered a Penn State fumble that led to Chris Hill’s 3-yard touchdown and a 7-0 Kentucky lead. Quarterback Derrick Ramsey’s 1-yard plunge pushed the lead to 13-0. UK’s Dallas Owens recovered a fumbled punt that set up John Pierce’s 33-yard field for a 16-0 lead.

Ramsey shook free for a 61-yard touchdown run that extended Kentucky’s advantage to 22-0. Penn State avoided the shutout, but it was a tough day for the Nittany Lions, who lost starting quarterback John Andress to a rib injury on the game’s second play. Andress was replaced by Chuck Fusina.

Penn State suffered its third straight loss for the first time since 1964. Entering the game ranked 20th, Penn State fell out of the AP Top 25. Joe Paterno’s team would finish 7-5 with a loss in the Gator Bowl. Kentucky went 8-4, including a 21-0 win over North Carolina in the Peach Bowl, the program’s first bowl bid in 25 years.

Former Kentucky head coach Fran Curci, shown here with star offensive lineman Warren Bryant in 1976, led the Wildcats against Penn State four times in the 1970s. E. Martin Jessee Herald-Leader file photo

Oct. 1, 1977: Kentucky 24, Penn State 20

As a preview of things to come, UK rallied twice to knock off the fourth-ranked Nittany Lions in Beaver Stadium.

After Penn State took a 10-0, Kentucky defensive back Dallas Owens intercepted a Chuck Fusina pass and returned it 23 yards for a touchdown to put the Cats on the board.

“That damn thing was going downhill and it was going downhill fast,” UK quarterback Derrick Ramsey told Mark Story of the Herald-Leader after Owens’ death in 2013. “Then Dallas made the play that changed everything.”

UK took a 14-10 lead, only to see Penn State jump back in front 20-14 at the half. Joe Bryant’s 30-yard field goal cut the lead to 20-17 in the third quarter. Then Ramsey hit David Trosper with a 17-yard pass that set up Ramsey’s 2-yard TD for what was ultimately the game-winner.

Kentucky intercepted Fusina three times on the way to handing Penn State its only loss of the season. UK also finished with just one loss on the way to a 10-1 record. Penn State finished fifth in the final AP rankings. Unable to go to a bowl because of NCAA probation, Kentucky was sixth in the final AP poll.

Oct. 7, 1978: Penn State 30, Kentucky 0

Kentucky took a drubbing in the final game of the four-game series, blanked by the fifth-ranked Nittany Lions, who extended their winning streak to 14 with the victory.

Quarterback Chuck Fusina passed for 209 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown to Scott Fitzkee. But it was the Penn State defense that was the difference. Led by defensive linemen Bruce Clark and Matt Millen, the Nittany Lions had already shut out Ohio State 19-0 and TCU 58-0 when they arrived in Lexington. The Lions would give up just 111 points all season.

Penn State ascended to the No. 1 ranking in the AP poll before losing to Alabama 14-7 in the Sugar Bowl for the national title. The Nittany Lions were fourth in the final rankings. Kentucky finished 4-6-1 on the season.

In preparation for the 1999 Outback Bowl, UK players Craig Yeast, left, and Tim Couch posed for a bowl preview photo in UK’s locker room. David Stephenson Herald-Leader file photo

Jan. 1, 1999: Penn State 26, Kentucky 14

In UK’s first New Year’s Day bowl game since 1951, the Wildcats lost to the Nittany Lions in the Outback Bowl at Tampa, Fla.

Behind All-America quarterback Tim Couch, Hal Mumme’s team jumped to an early 14-3 lead. Couch hit Lance Mickelsen with a 37-yard touchdown pass to make it 7-0. After Penn State kicked a field goal, Anthony White took a Couch screen pass 16 yards to the end zone to make it 14-3 in the first quarter.

The Penn State defense blanked the Cats the final three quarters, however. The Nittany Lions sacked Couch six times. Defensive end Courtney Brown recorded two of the sacks on the way to Most Valuable Player honors. PSU’s Travis Forney backed up the defensive effort with a bowl record four field goals.

Couch finished 30-of-48 for 336 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in what would be his final game. He was taken by the Cleveland Browns with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft. Courtney Brown was selected by the Browns with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft.

Kentucky ended the season 7-5. Penn State finished 9-3 and was ranked 17th in the final AP poll.