Five Things We Learned: Wisconsin

Story posted December 5, 2016 in Sports, CommRadio by Alissa Devine

The No. 5 Penn State Nittany Lions defeated the No. 8 ranked Wisconsin Badgers in Indianapolis on Saturday to win the Big Ten Championship. The Nittany Lions, who were trailing 28-14 at the half, pulled off another trade-mark second half rally and erased a 21-point deficit for a 38-31 victory over Wisconsin. For a football team that has faced more adversity than any other in the last four years, Penn State has overcome those hardships and doubts by winning a title no one thought they would. The Nittany Lions fought their way on top of the hardest division in College Football, over top-ten ranked Ohio State and Michigan. It’s a Cinderella story no one believed, except the Nittany Lions themselves. Here are five things we learned from Penn State’s Big Ten Championship win:

1. Penn State really is a second half team and the Nittany Lions know it

Penn State pulled off their fourth double-digit comeback this season, which is a program first. The Nittany Lions were trailing 28-7 in the second quarter, but scored 31 of the game’s next 34 points to rally for their largest comeback since 2010. In addition, this season Penn State has outscored its opponents 132-50 in the third quarter and 298-105 in the second half. The Nittany Lions, like everyone else, are aware of their second half success. Penn State was able to get a late touchdown before the end of the first half to make it a two-score game. Coach James Franklin and his players knew a two-touchdown deficit was not going to break their team going into the second half.

“I don’t like the fact that we don’t get started as quickly as I think we can, but I do like the fact that I’m able to come in at halftime and say to our guys that we’re a second-half team,” Franklin said.

Saturday’s game against Wisconsin was no different, even with the Badgers having above a 90 percent chance of winning when leading at the half.

“To get that touchdown before halftime, we went into halftime like we were winning the game,” Gesicki said.  “We knew we were going to come out in the second half and make adjustments and then go out and play the way we do in the second half.”

Regardless of Penn State’s second-half success, it was the resilient mindset of the Nittany Lions. Penn State players, coaches, and fans never gave up even when down by 21 points.

2. Trace McSorley is more deserving of the Big Ten Grange-Griffin MVP award

On Saturday, McSorley passed for 384 yards and four touchdowns, which are both Big Ten Championship Game records. In addition, he also broke Matt McGloin’s single season passing yards Penn State record with 3,360 through 13 games.

Trace McSorley is a tough quarterback willing to run on the read-option and take massive hits for extra yards. The nervy attitude of McSorley carried Penn State to their first Big Ten title in eight years. The reason for Penn State’s success against the Wisconsin Badgers was its passing game, especially because the run game was lacking. In the third quarter alone, McSorley went 5 for 5 for 146 yards and a touchdown. This included a 70-yard bomb to Saeed Blacknall for a touchdown.

McSorley’s success not only comes from his irrepressible attitude, but also the incredible performance of his wide receiving crew. Blacknall and DaeSean Hamilton had notable performances on Saturday night, which also helped lift the Nittany Lions past the Badgers for the Big Ten title.

3. Penn State might have been robbed out of the fourth spot for the CFB playoffs

The College Football Committee had a lot to think about after Penn State’s upset over Wisconsin. Penn State has nine straight wins, a head-to-head win over Ohio State and a Big Ten Championship title. In addition, the Nittany Lions had wins over four top 25 teams in the AP Poll including, No. 2 Ohio State, No. 8 Wisconsin, No. 21 Iowa, and No. 23 Temple.

However, it was not enough to put Penn State in the top four spots for the College Football Playoffs. Even after winning nine straight and finishing its schedule as strong as ever, the Lions’ two early losses to Pittsburgh and Michigan were the reason the committee did not put them in the No. 4 spot.

Clearly the football committee does not take into consideration head-to-head wins or conference championships into consideration. Penn State had the win over Ohio State and won the division over the Buckeyes, which most would believe to be enough for a spot in the playoffs. The Big Ten had three teams in the final six spots of the rankings before the selection and the Big Ten Champion did not make the playoffs. It signifies that to the committee, a conference title does not mean as much as it used for the “résumé” they look for in teams.

Most argue that if Ohio State was in the same position as Penn State, the Blue and White would have made the playoffs. While Penn State fans believed the Nittany Lions should have had a final four spot over Ohio State, the committee had a hard discussion on whether Penn State should have made it over the one-loss Washington Huskies.

However, the Huskie’s schedule was one of the weakest for top-ten teams. Their biggest win was against No. 8 Colorado when they played them last weekend. Penn State had beaten the No. 2 Buckeyes and No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers at the time of the committee’s decision. The committee would not have had as much of a tough choice if Washington’s schedule was tougher. Some Penn State fans argue that strength of schedule should be taken into consideration more so than the committee did on Sunday.

What Penn State has done since those two losses is unbelievable for any football program and is arguably the best comeback team of the season. Penn State should have made the College Football Playoffs.

4. Penn State is going to the Rose Bowl

The Rose Bowl is Penn State’s greatest reward, aside from a spot in the playoffs, for one of the greatest comeback seasons in school history. For any team, the Rose Bowl is an honor to be able to play in. The Nittany Lions will play the No. 9 USC Trojans, another team that has been hot down the stretch. It will be played on January 2 in Pasadena, California.

This will be Penn State’s third Rose Bowl, where they are 1-2 overall. It is also its first trip since 2009, when the Lions also faced the Trojans, falling to USC 38-24. The Trojans have won eight consecutive games, including a win over No. 4 Washington in week 10.

If Penn State beats USC in the Rose Bowl, it would give Penn State fans even more reason to believe the Nittany Lions should have made the final four over Washington. Regardless, making it to the marquee New York Six bowl game is remarkable for a football program such as Penn State.

5. Penn State football is back and there is no doubting it

There is no denying Penn State football is back. The Nittany Lions started the season off 2-2, with two losses to Pittsburgh and Michigan. The Lions then went on to win nine consecutive games, including clinching the Big Ten East title, and claimed the Big Ten Championship.

To put it simply, no one expected a season such as this one for the Nittany Lions. It’s one of Penn State’s greatest comeback seasons in history, and there is a lot of history for this football program. The incredible season for the Blue and White could not have been accomplished without offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead and defensive coordinator Brent Pry. Moorhead turned around an offense that was hindered for years. Pry was able to work with an injured defensive line, with countless linebackers out of the lineup.

Coach James Franklin who was on the “hot seat” earlier in the season, especially after the loss to Pittsburgh, turned the season around with a young team. Franklin also turned the football program around as a whole.

Penn State football is officially back. Thank you Franklin for making Happy Valley happy again.

 

Alissa Devine is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact her, email alissadevine96@gmail.com