INDIANAPOLIS — Penn State’s second-half heroics continued in spectacular fashion here Saturday night. The Nittany Lions stormed back from a 28-14 deficit at the break (it had been 28-7 in the second quarter) to beat Wisconsin, 38-31.
The victory in the Big Ten championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium allowed James Franklin’s team to win its first conference title since 2008 and earn a spot in the Rose Bowl opposite USC.
It also proved — yet again — that the Nittany Lions are crazy dangerous in the final two quarters of games.
Since Indiana scored a fourth-quarter touchdown vs. PSU in Bloomington Nov. 12, the Lions have outscored their opponents 106-3 in the second halves of games.
Here is how we saw things going Saturday night.
MAN OF THE HOUR
PSU QB Trace McSorley continues to amaze. By throwing for 384 yards and four scores Saturday, McSorley set Big Ten title game records for passing yards and TD passes. With one game remaining, he has already set the school record for total yards in a season (3,360) and passing TDs (25) in a season. And he’s only a redshirt sophomore.
WR Saeed Blacknall set a B1G title game record with 150 receiving yards. His 70-yard TD was also the longest in the history of the game.
LB Brandon Bell had a game-high 13 tackles and a highlight reel sack on which he caused a fumble.
Penn State was down 28-7 when it forced a three-and-out and got the ball back at its own 10 with 2:25 left in the first half. McSorley calmly led an eight-play, 90-yard scoring drive — which was capped by Blacknall’s 40-yard TD catch — to cut the lead to 28-14 at the break. The Lions controlled things the rest of the way.
McSorley and his outstanding fleet of receivers destroyed the previously stout Badger defense with the long ball.
• Wisconsin entered the game having allowed one team to score more than 20 points (Ohio State had 30 in an OT win). The Buckeyes were also the only other team to post more than 349 total yards vs. UW (they had 411 in OT). PSU had 435 in regulation.
WHAT'S UP WITH?
• The Big Ten coaches voting only two members of this Penn State offense to the first THREE All-Conference teams (RB Saquon Barkley first team and McSorley second team). Pretty comical. There is no better offense in the Big Ten right now.
• Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany going on ESPN College GameDay Saturday and making a case for 10-2 Michigan to be in the College Football Playoff but not the winner of the conference title game. A complete insult to Penn State and Wisconsin. How sad is it when TV talking heads are doing more to promote the Big Ten champ for the CFP than the conference’s commissioner? And how ironic is it that — after Delany stumped for Michigan — Penn State finished at No. 5 in the CFP standings and the Wolverines No. 6? (BTW, we’ve got no beef with 11-1 Ohio State getting a CFP bid, even though the Lions beat them head to head. The Buckeyes have a better overall resume.)
LOST IN THE SHUFFLE
• PSU veteran DT Curtis Cothran played the best game of his career, with five tackles and three tackles for loss.
• As well as Blacknall played, PSU also got amazing receiving performances from DaeSean Hamilton (8 for 118), TE Mike Gesicki (3 for 58) and Chris Godwin (2 for 33).
• P Blake Griffin averaged 49 yards on two punts.
DID YOU NOTICE?
• OT Brendan Mahon, who has been out with an undisclosed medical issue, was with the team (but did not dress) for this one. Was nice to see him back. http://www.scout.com/college/penn-state/story/1734566-get-your-official-...
• Penn State fans seemed to outnumber Badger fans by a two-to-one margin. Impressive.
• How much fun Gus Johnson had calling the game for FOX. He’s a basketball guy, to be sure. But he was the perfect play-by-play man for this wild one.
Has there ever been a more unlikely Big Ten champion? Kudos to Franklin and his Lions for proving everyone wrong.