The Nittany Lions Are Your Big Ten Champions Because They Never Gave Up
“I don’t want to say we’re a second-half team because we’re trying to change that,” James Franklin said after his team’s win over Purdue back in October.
Well nothing has changed since then, and it doesn’t matter. Penn State ran the table, put up first halves with much to be desired, and surged in the second half each time to end up in Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game.
Why would this game be any different for the Nittany Lions? They fell behind 28-7 in the first half, and with some similarities to their Pitt loss, scored late in the half to make it look respectable — just a two-score game.
Well, the story finished a little bit different at Lucas Oil Stadium than it did at Heinz Field. Penn State completed this incredible comeback.
“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. “I think the last eight games of the year we averaged 27 points in the second half and only gave up six.”
Saturday’s game was a B1G Championship, and it required some B1G performances.
That all starts with Big Ten Grange-Griffin Most Valuable Player Trace McSorley. What didn’t the redshirt sophomore in his first season as the full-time starter do tonight?
McSorley passed for 384 yards and four touchdowns — both Big Ten Championship Game records. He also broke Matt McGloin’s single-season passing yards school record in the process — finishing with 3,360 through 13 games.
The spectacular night for McSorley was all about trust.
“Trust the system, trust the game plan,” the quarterback said. “Just trying to take what the defense was giving me and trust the defense. I kept trusting them. Everything came together and we were able to carry it through the rest of the game.”
A huge reason McSorley was able to succeed on the night had to do with the incredible performances of his wide receiving crew.
A handful of guys stepped up and made this comeback possible and it all started with the performance junior Saeed Blacknall put in. The New Jersey-native put up a career-high 155 yards receiving and two touchdowns from 40-yard and 70-yard receptions that helped turn a 28-7 lead to a 28-21 lead early in the third quarter.
Blacknall, who has been through the highs and lows in each of Franklin’s three seasons as head coach, zoned in during the performance to overcome the tough circumstances in this game — just as he and his teammates have done since beginning their Penn State careers.
“We just worked so hard and came from such a low place as a family for the first two years,” Blacknall said. “For us to have the season we did the last nine games and come here with the adversity we faced today. We were able to overcome it and it was beautiful.”
Every program in the country wants to hit home that its players and coaches will never give up on a game, or on each other. Penn State football, for everything it has been through in the past couple years, embodies this better than any other program in the country.
“With the coaches that we have in this program, they have taught us never to put your head down, never give up, trust in what we’re doing,” Mike Gesicki said. I don’t know if it’s great for us, but we honestly do believe we’re a second half team.”
Whether you’re talking about Penn State coming out of the locker room stronger and ready to make a comeback on Saturday’s, or about restoring glory to a program that was left for dead just a few years ago, Penn State football will never give up.