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Underrated Penn State Football Victories

Happy article this week.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Last week I wrote about the most devastating losses in Penn State’s history, and some of you were not very happy about that.

But because I am a blogger for the people, we’ll look back on fonder times today. Not the obvious fonder times — you know, Ohio State 2005 or Iowa 2017 — but those underrated victories that maybe didn’t seem all that important, but for whatever reason, were uniquely satisfying.


While the goal line stand against Indiana the week prior is the more notable event that marked the ending of the Dark Years, the following week’s 37-13 victory over Michigan State was a nice followup. I was at the game as a 10-year-old, and seeing Penn State upend Michigan State’s chances for a bowl game was pretty sweet. Back then, ruining another team’s chances for a bowl game was pretty much Penn State’s de facto bowl game.

I remember coming home from the game and calling my grandmother to talk about the victory. We were both so sure that in 2005, Penn State was going to make it back to a bowl game. Granted, we were thinking like Motor City Bowl or something, but hey, we settled for the Orange Bowl.


Penn State went into 2008 with a good veteran team, but not one that was necessarily expected to compete on a national scale. They were ranked just No. 22 to start the season, and while they began the season the right way — blowing out Coastal Carolina 66-10 — it was, after all, just Coastal Carolina.

The following week, the Nittany Lions welcomed Oregon State. Sure, not the most daunting of opponents, but a legitimate Pac 10 (RIP) program. What followed? Absolute destruction.

Penn State raced out to a 45-7 lead by the third quarter, and had they chosen to do so, probably could have dropped 60+ on the Beavers. Everything, whether it was offensively or defensively, just seemed so easy for the Nittany Lions. They made Oregon State (who defeated a ridiculously stacked USC team a few weeks later) look like an FCS team on both sides of the ball.

For me, it was the game that showed that this Penn State team was much better than the “good-but-not-great” caliber it had been in 2006 and 2007. It had the top-notch defense like always, but this year, it also had an offense that could go scorched-earth on you in a matter of minutes. For a fan who grew up with 2000s Penn State football, the prospects of having an offense that could drop 40 every game was a new, exciting experience.


This game was the first game I thought of when writing this post. Penn State was 3-2 and following a Venric Mark punt return for a touchdown, trailed Northwestern 28-17 heading into the fourth quarter. I don’t want to say the season hung in the balance because that team would have never quit, but it was a pivotal moment for the season. Dropping to 3-3 with a road trip to Kinnick and then having the Buckeyes at home — I mean, the season could have gone an entirely different way

Fortunately, Penn State didn’t drop to 3-3. They had an 18-play, 82-yard drive that saw them convert four 3rd downs and one 4th down, and then converted a two-point conversion to make it 28-25. Their next offensive series? 15 plays, 85 yards — another four 3rd down conversions, another 4th down conversion, and another touchdown to make it 32-28.

Oh, we also got this GIF.

This isn’t even to mention the defense — led by Michael freaking Mauti — that played out of its mind in the fourth quarter. On Northwestern’s two series following Penn State touchdowns, the Wildcats mustered up a combined 7 plays for 7 yards. I mean, both sides of the ball just turned it up a level, and it made for an unbelievable moment in Beaver Stadium.

After a shaky start to the 2012 season, this game kind of turned the tide for the team and for the program in general. I remember walking out of the stadium just thinking, “You know what? This program is going to be alright.”

2016 IOWA

This game was two weeks after the upset of Ohio State, and for the first time since November 12, 2011 against Nebraska, Penn State was ranked in a football game at Beaver Stadium. It was a night game, so the entire day there was this buzz around Happy Valley. I was at Skeller for much of the afternoon, and there just didn’t seem to be an ounce of nervousness among anybody. Despite Penn State being ranked just No. 20, you would have thought the Nittany Lions were ranked No. 2 in the country. There was just such a confidence in the air because finally Penn State football was back.

The team clearly had the same confidence that the fans did because they boat-raced Iowa from the jump. Offense or defense, you could see the feeling from Penn State of “Yeah, we’re better than you.” It was incredible to see this team that a month earlier was going into halftime against Minnesota down 13-3, to completely turn it around and play with such swagger.

Obviously, the Block Six, the fourth down stand, or Saquon’s run against USC are the moments anyone will think of when the 2016 season is brought up. But to me, the feeling going into, during, and after that Iowa game will always stand out.