INDIANAPOLIS — Penn State’s incredible 2016 season took another surreal turn Saturday night.
The Nittany Lions (11-2) rallied from a 21-point deficit to defeat Wisconsin 38-31 in the Big Ten Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Penn State trailed 28-7 in the second quarter, but finished with 435 yards — easily the most Wisconsin has allowed all season.
Nittany Lions QB Trace McSorley won game MVP honors, throwing for 384 yards and 4 touchdowns. He broke two more school records, and has more than 375 yards and 4 touchdowns in back-to-back.
Penn State is guaranteed a spot in the Rose Bowl with the victory, but could still slip into the College Football Playoff.
Here’s what Penn State coach James Franklin said after the victory, the ninth in a row for his Nittany Lions:
- Franklin thanked “the entire Nittany nation” for traveling to Indy and supporting the team all year long. He mentioned the Minnesota game (a 29-26 OT win to start the winning streak) as the turning point in the season.
- He said he still doesn’t like that Penn State doesn’t start well, but there was confidence when they went in the locker room and said they are a second-half team.
- Franklin said they didn’t start out very good on either of the lines, but they settled some young guys down and made some more plays in the second half.
- He thanked athletic director Sandy Barbour for standing up for the team and specifically for him earlier in the season (when she gave him a vote of confidence after the 2-2 start). Franklin said Eric Barron is “the best president in the country.”
- Tight end Mike Gesicki (also at the podium) said after Penn State scored the touchdown late in the first half to make it 28-14, it felt like the Nittany Lions were winning the game at halftime. He said this team believes it is a second-half team and everything was positive at halftime.
- Cornerback Grant Haley (also at the podium) said that Wisconsin ran a counter play earlier in the game and broke it for a touchdown, so when he saw them try to set the edge in a key play late in the game, he saw it coming and made a play.
- Gesicki told teammates on the sideline when it was 28-7: “Guys, this is just like Pitt, only we’re going to finish it off.”
- Haley said Wisconsin “wasn’t really running that many plays.” Said they just needed to fit gaps better and play with more energy on defense in the second half.
- Haley said he doesn’t care where they play next. “Getting to play another game with these guys, wherever it is, will be special.”
- Franklin said “it is hard to think of this as just this season.” Learned a lot about himself, his family, this Penn State community in three challenging years.
- Franklin: “This is a foundation. The fortunate thing is we get to continue to build on that foundation more this year.”
- Franklin: The game went exactly the way Wisconsin wanted it to in the first half. They were doing what they wanted. Said they needed to calm some young guys.
- Franklin said getting to the half only down 14 was huge. The defense made big plays to make up for losing the ball on downs twice in the first half.
- Franklin: “It wasn’t only pretty, but that’s a credit to (RB) Saquon Barkley.” Still have a developing O-line, but Barkley has made big plays. Gave credit to (O-line coach Matt) Limegrover and (offensive coordinator Joe) Moorhead for helping Barkley.
- Franklin said this has kind of been part of their script all season. They’ve had to do it in a bunch of different ways. So winning in another, different way is just part of the script.
- Franklin said his players are learning to win games, but also “how to win at life.” [NOTE: No follow-up about whether or not this qualifies them as Champions of Life, like Tennessee’s players].
- Franklin joked that (Big Ten commissioner Jim) Delany asked him to make the game as exciting as possible, so that’s why Penn State did all of those negative things in the first half — to help get the ratings up and make it an exciting game.
- A reporter said, “Coach, you are Big Ten champions” and Franklin asked him to repeat it. “That sounds so sweet.”
- Franklin said he’s heard people say on TV all year that the Big Ten is the toughest conference in the country. “We just won the Big Ten Conference.”