The 1959 Alabama squad finished the regular season with a 7–1–2 record and played in a bowl for the first time since the 1954 Cotton Bowl Classic. After Navy turned down an offer, Alabama accepted a bid to play in the inaugural Liberty Bowl on November 30. The game was the first bowl for Bear Bryant as head coach of the Crimson Tide.
After starting the season 7–0, Penn State dropped two of their final three games to finish the regular season with a record of 8–2. The Nittany Lions accepted a bid for the Liberty Bowl on November 23 with the other opponent identified as being either Georgia, Georgia Tech, SMU or Navy. Alabama was selected as the opponent after Navy turned down an offer. The game marked the first bowl for Penn State since the 1948 Cotton Bowl Classic.
In a game dominated by both defenses, the only points were scored at the end of the second quarter by the Nittany Lions on a fake field goal. This lone touchdown was scored by Roger Kochman on a 17-yard reception from Galen Hall with Sam Stellatella adding the extra point.