Just a couple years removed from a national title, Penn State found itself at a bit of a crossroads in 1985. The ‘83 season had been up and down, while the 1984 season was a downright disappointing 6-5 year without a bowl.
To top that off, the Nittany Lions were on the road against a highly touted Maryland team that was deparate to give the Terrapins a first win against Penn State since 1961.
It would be an afternoon that would skyrocket one of the programs into one of its best two-year stretches of football ever.
Maryland had closed 1984 with seven consecutive losses, most notably a 31-point rally behind Frank Reich (he made a habit of those) against defending national champion Miami. Overall, the Terrapins went 9-3 and won the Sun Bowl against Tennessee.
That last loss in 1984 though, a one-point defeat in Beaver Stadium. So, ranked in the top 10 to open the season, Maryland had legitimate hopes of a huge season as they welcomed Penn State to Byrd Stadium.
Penn State’s defense was opportunistic from the start - as Mike Zordich picked off a pass in the opening minutes to spark the Lions to an early lead. Pete Giftopolous had the second biggest interception of his career later in the first half as Penn State built a 17-0 lead.
It wasn’t that easy though. Penn State’s uneven offense never got much going and Maryland actually rallied to take an 18-17 lead.
But Penn State got the lead for good on a long Massimo Manca field goal. That set the stage for the famed bend-but-don’t-break defense that would ultimately win a national title in January 1987.
Three times Maryland drove into Penn State territory in the fourth quarter, but came away with zero points. The Terrapins missed a pair of field goals and Alvin Blount fumbled away Maryland’s last possession at the Lion 30-yard-line.
It was Penn State’s 21st straight win against Maryland and sparked the then No. 19 Nittany Lions to 11 straight wins to open 1985. In total, Penn State would win 23 straight regular season games, claim a No. 1 ranking in both years, and win the 1986 national title.
Maryland rebounded to have a solid season themselves, going 9-3 and winning something called the Cherry Bowl. However, never since then has Maryland ever been ranked higher entering a matchup against the Nittany Lions.