No. 7 Penn State Wins Big Ten Championship, Rallies Past Wisconsin 38-31
No. 7 Penn State (11-2, 9-1 Big Ten) put the rest of its second-half comebacks to shame Saturday night in Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Nittany Lions delivered a 31-3 rally to capture their first-ever Big Ten Championship Game, 38-31, over No. 6 Wisconsin.
How It Happened
Wisconsin won the opening coin toss and elected to defer its option to the second half. Saquon Barkley came off the field a little gingerly after taking a big shot on his first run of the night. The Nittany Lions went three-and-out on their first series, but freshman Blake Gillikin’s booming punt helped limit to damage. Senior Bart Houston got the start for the Badgers at quarterback due to Alex Hornibrook’s head injury. He led the offense on an impressive drive into Penn State territory, thanks in part to a late hit on sophomore linebacker Manny Bowen.
Wisconsin chewed up 8:00 and 14 plays on its way to a one-yard touchdown run by fullback Austin Ramesh with 5:27 left in the first quarter. Barkley checked back into the game, but the Nittany Lions were swallowed up on another three-and-out. Corey Clement gouged Penn State’s defense with an electric 67-yard score down the left sideline to make it 14-0 Badgers with 3:06 to go in the first frame. It marked the fourth-longest touchdown run in Big Ten Championship history.
Barkley provided the initial spark for the Nittany Lions, bouncing outside right for 22 yards on first down. Trace McSorley would hit junior tight end Mike Gesicki from 33 yards out to cut the deficit to 14-7 just over a minute before the end of the quarter. Brent Pry’s bunch stepped up to force Wisconsin’s first punt of the ballgame three minutes into the third. The Badgers made a huge play of their own on defense. McSorley and Brian Gaia botched the snap and Wisconsin’s Ryan Connelly spun his way into the end zone to make it 21-7 with 9:42 to go ahead of the half.
Penn State gambled and went for it on fourth and two from its 42, but McSorley was flushed out of the pocket and his pass sailed incomplete. The Nittany Lions nearly made up for the mistake with a fumble recovery, but Wisconsin somehow managed to get it back at the Penn State 16-yard line. Dare Ogunbowale gave the Badgers a steep 28-7 lead on a seven-yard run with five minutes and change left before the break.
On fourth and one just short of midfield, T.J. Watt delivered the sack, forced fumble, and recovery for Wisconsin’s defense. To make matters worse, McSorley was hurt on the play. He would shake it off and lead the offense back out onto the field the next drive, however. He found Saeed Blacknall for a pair of big first-down conversions before the junior wideout glanced off a Badger defender for a 40-yard touchdown a few plays later. Tyler Davis’ PAT sailed through the uprights as the Nittany Lions drew within two scores, 28-14, a minute before halftime.
Penn State buckled down on defense as the Badgers crossed midfield on their first drive coming out of the locker room. Wisconsin kicker Andrew Endicott missed a 48-yard field goal attempt wide right, giving the Nittany Lion faithful some life. Blacknall broke the dam on a 70-yard touchdown catch on Penn State’s first play from scrimmage to set a new Big Ten Championship record with 144 receiving yards on just five grabs.
Penn State forced the Badgers to punt for the third time, setting up a third-straight touchdown and 21 unanswered points for the Nittany Lions. McSorley led a quick eight-play, 63-yard drive to the Wisconsin doorstep before Barkley punched it in from a yard out to tie things up at 28-28. Houston and the Badgers regrouped with a nine-play, 70-yard drive that resulted in a 23-yarder from Endicott to give Wisconsin a 31-28 lead with :16 left in the third.
Barkley delivered a huge go-ahead score as McSorley hit the sophomore running back in stride from 18 yards out to make it 35-31 Nittany Lions with 13:41 to go in the game. McSorley broke the Big Ten Championship record on the drive with 362 passing yards. Davis would later nail a 24-yard field goal to extend Penn State’s lead to 38-31. The Nittany Lions held strong on fourth and one from their own 24, forcing a Wisconsin turnover on downs to wrap up their first Big Ten Championship in school history.
Player Of The Game
Trace McSorley | Redshirt sophomore | Quarterback
The Ashburn, Va., native finished 22-of-31 for a career-high 384 yards and four touchdowns.
Penn State will await its postseason fate Sunday at noon on ESPN.