One Year Later: Penn State’s Rise Since It Whited Out Ohio State
No. 2 Penn State football will take on No. 19 Michigan in its annual White Out game at Beaver Stadium on Saturday.
At this time one year ago, the No. 2 team in all of college football was preparing to face an embattled team with the opportunity to re-establish itself as a national power in college football.
If you travelled back in time to this week last year and told someone that Penn State would be defending a Big Ten title as the second-ranked team, its highest AP Poll spot this century, in college football in just a year’s time, that person would think you’re as crazy as the Willard Preacher.
It’s amazing how much things can change in a year.
Although a lot has gone into the program’s rise from seven-win mediocrity to national championship contender, the root of all of this growth took place on October 22, 2016.
Last year, James Franklin’s squad headed into the annual White Out with a pedestrian 4-2 record. For the most part, Penn State beat who it was supposed to beat; Kent State and Temple couldn’t find ways to further rock the already-unsteady ship of Penn State football.
However, the two losses both felt like punches to the gut; a failed comeback bid at in-state rival Pitt and a flat out ass-kicking at the hands of Michigan left the team reeling. Head coach James Franklin’s job was in question as chants of “Fire Franklin” rained down in Beaver Stadium as the Nittany Lions trailed at halftime 13-3 to Minnesota.
Penn State came back to take down the Golden Gophers in overtime and gained some momentum with a win over Maryland, but the thought of upsetting an unbeaten Ohio State team seemed like a pipe dream.
After a scoreless first 15 minutes, Ohio State jumped out to a 12-0 lead in the second quarter. A late Tyler Durbin field goal made most Penn State fans accept a 12-point deficit going into the second half. However, an excellent two-minute drill gave the Nittany Lions life.
Penn State entered the break trailing by just five points, but a 74-yard touchdown by Curtis Samuel and a safety saw the Buckeyes grab the momentum and take a 21-7 lead entering the final 15 minutes.
All hope seemed to be lost at this point, but Penn State never stopped believing. The comeback was officially on after a Trace McSorley touchdown run and a Tyler Davis field goal trimmed the Buckeye lead to four.
An offensive possession saw Ohio State slowly move the ball to Penn State’s 28-yard line. After a dropped interception by John Reid, Urban Meyer sent Tyler Durbin out to kick a field goal.
“Super reliable inside 40. This is from 45.”
At the time, a made field goal would’ve marked a career high for the Buckeyes’ “super reliable” kicker. Everyone hoped for a miss, but no one could have predicted what happened next.
The kick was blocked. Marcus Allen got a hand on the ball. Grant Haley scooped it up and ran it all the way back for a touchdown. I can still visualize what Haley falling across the goal line looked like from my spot in the bleachers. The only word I can use to describe the student section is “pandemonium.”
This moment, these twelve seconds of football in the fourth quarter of a tight game, changed the fortune of Penn State football.
The Penn State defense completely shut down J.T. Barrett and the Buckeye offense during the final four-and-a-half minutes, and James Franklin wrapped up his first signature win in Happy Valley.
The next day, it was announced that the team was ranked No. 24 in the AP Poll. For the first time since 2011, the Penn State Nittany Lions were ranked nationally.
— Penn State Football (@PennStateFball) October 23, 2016
After this huge win, the team just kept winning. As Penn State’s win count grew, so did its national ranking. It felt like the Nittany Lions’ ranking grew every week. Eventually, the team was the fifth best in all of college football, and, more importantly, the best team in the Big Ten.
A lot of players and coaches can be cited as the reason for the team’s seemingly magical transformation into a national power; Saquon Barkley is the best player in college football right now. Trace McSorley makes up for what he lacks in size with a never-say-die attitude and a winning pedigree.
Mike Gesicki, Marcus Allen, Grant Haley, and Jason Cabinda are just some of the key men on the team who have stepped up into starring roles. James Franklin and Joe Moorhead are a huge part of why Penn State is one of the most exciting teams in all of college football.
One year ago this week, Penn State fans spent the White Out week preparing for another ass-kicking at the hands of a Big Ten power.
They prepared for a fourth consecutive seven-win season; barring disaster, the team is not going to string together four straight seven-win seasons for a long time. They prepared for the firing of James Franklin — which, again, barring disaster — is also not going to happen anytime soon.
As you read this, the No. 2 team in all of college football is preparing to face an embattled team with the opportunity to re-establish itself as a national power in college football. Guess which one of those describes Penn State.