Big Ten Champions! Penn State Rallies from 21 Down to Win First Outright Conference Title Since 1994

INDIANAPOLIS (EYT) – Penn State has been a second-half team all season.

(Photo by Paul Burdick. Check out more of Burdick’s work here)

The Nittany Lions saved their best second half for the most important time.

Rallying from a 21-point deficit late in the second quarter and a 14-point halftime deficit, Penn State won its first outright Big Ten Championship since 1994 and its fourth Big Ten title since then with a 38-31 win over Wisconsin Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

“I am just really proud of these guys and thankful for our fans,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said. “I am thankful for President (Eric) Barron and the support he has given us every step of the way. He’s the best president in the country. And (athletic director) Sandy Barbour stood up for us and specifically stood up for me at a point where we needed her to. I can’t thank her enough for her leader, her belief in us and specifically her belief in me.

“I’m very appreciative of this opportunity and appreciative to be able to represent the Big Ten East and now the conference championship.”

Trace McSorley threw for a Big Ten Championship record 384 yards and four touchdowns. His 18-yard scoring pass to Saquon Barkley on a wheel route with 13:41 to play gave Penn State, which trailed 28-7 with a minute to play in the first half, its first lead of the game, 35-31.

“Obviously, Trace did a bunch of big things,” Franklin said.

The Nittany Lions (11-2) then added a Tyler Davis 24-yard field goal with 5:14 left, and Grant Haley stopped Corey Clement for no gain on fourth-and-1 from the Nittany Lions 24-yard line with 1:01 left to seal the victory.

Behind Clement and a dominating offensive line, Wisconsin (10-3) raced out to a 14-0 lead and then built the advantage to 28-7 thanks to a defensive touchdown and a questionable fourth-down call by Penn State head coach James Franklin.

Clement ran for 164 yards and a touchdown on a 67-yard run that put the Badgers ahead 14-0.

Penn State answered the Clement score with a 33-yard McSorley to Mike Gesicki scoring toss, but the Nittany Lions gave that score back when center Brian Gaia snap went past McSorley and was recovered by Wisconsin’s Ryan Connelly and returned 12 yards for a touchdown.

On the Nittany Lions next drive, Franklin elected to go for it on fourth-and-2 for Penn State’s 42, and McSorley was pressured into throwing the ball away.

The Badgers then went 42 yards and scored on a 7-yard Dare Ogunbowale touchdown run with 5:15 left in the half to make it 28-7.

Wisconsin then stopped Penn State on another fourth-and-1, this time from the Wisconsin 48 when T.J. Watt forced a McSorley fumble and recovered at the Penn State 43.

But the Nittany Lions defense rose to the challenge and forced a punt with Penn State taking over at its 10-yard line with 2:25 to play before halftime.

McSorley then engineered an 8-play, 90-yard drive that ended with a 40-yard scoring pass to Saeed Blacknall to cut the Wisconsin lead to 14, 28-14, at halftime.

“In the last eight games of the year, we averaged 27 points in the second half and only gave up six,” Franklin said. “After telling the guys that and talking to the guys (about) that in the lockerroom, I felt like we left the lockerroom really confident.”

That confident was evident in the second half when the Nittany Lions outscored Wisconsin 24-3.

After the Badgers missed a field goal on their opening drive of the half, McSorley hit Blacknall with a 70-yard pass to get Penn State within seven, 28-21.

The Nittany Lions defense then got the ball back, and Barkley tied the game on a 1-yard run with 4:22 to play in the third quarter.

Wisconsin momentarily stopped the bleeding when Andrew Endicott hit a 23-yard field goal in the final minute of the third quarter, but Penn State answered right back with a 4-play, 81-yard drive that ended in the Barkley go-ahead touchdown pass. Passes of 38 and 25 yards to Daesean Hamilton set up the score.

“We’ve been in that situation (trailing at halftime) a number of times and handled it really well,” Franklin said. “These guys believe in each other. I think they believe in us. We have great chemistry. We have really good relationships who care about one and other in our lockerroom. When you have that, you can do a lot of really good things. I’m proud of our guys.”

After really getting run over on both sides of the ball for most of the first half, Penn State ended up outgaining Wisconsin 435-415, although the Badgers were much better on the ground out rushing Penn State 241-51.

“The offensive line really battled in the second half,” Franklin said. “We didn’t start out really good, I think, on either front. I thought their O-line was able to dictate the first half. Their D-line was able to dictate the first half. Then we were able to get some of our young guys settled down. From that point on, we really made some plays.”

Most of those plays came in the passing game with both Blacknall (six catches, 155 yards, 2 TDs) and Hamilton (eight catches, 118 yards) going over 100 yards receiving.

“We thought we were going to have to make plays on the perimeter,” Franklin said. “And, we were able to do that.”

Penn State’s fate in the College Football Playoff is now in the hands of the committee. Franklin made a passionate please during the trophy presentation to the committee. The Nittany Lions entered the week ranked seventh with the top four making it. No. 1 Alabama, No. 3 Clemson and No. 4 Washington all won this weekend. No. 3 Ohio State, who Penn State beat, was off, as was No. 5 Michigan, who crushed Penn State. Wisconsin was ranked No. 6.

Even if the Nittany Lions, who have wins over two teams who were in the Top Six entering the week, the onne of only two teams in the Top 10 to do that, don’t earn a CFP spot, Penn State will go to one of the big time bowl games, most likely the Rose Bowl.

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