Nittany Lions Stomp Michigan State, Clinch Big Ten East
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Every team sets goals at the beginning of a season. For this Penn State team, one of those goals was a Big Ten championship. Some thought it far-fetched. Most wrote them off. How can a team in the same division as Ohio State and Michigan come out on top?
It’s a lot easier to visualize when the Penn State players and coaches are standing on an elevated platform above the grass of Beaver Stadium, hoisting the Land Grant Trophy and donning ‘Big Ten East Champions’ hats.
The No. 7 Nittany Lions (10-2, 8-1) got to that point by taking care of business against Michigan State (3-9, 1-8), 45-12 Saturday afternoon in Happy Valley. The win, coupled with No. 2 Ohio State’s thrilling double-overtime victory over No. 3 Michigan, punched Penn State’s ticket to Indianapolis for their first Big Ten Championship Game appearance.
As has been the case for most of the season, Penn State got off to a slow start, only scoring 10 points in the first half despite averaging over 35 per game. The defense did its part, allowing four red zone trips but no touchdowns, only yielding 12 points despite 17 first downs on 46 plays. The Nittany Lions trailed by two at the break.
“We didn’t play the way we wanted to play in the first half,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said. “But we did a great job when they got in the red zone.”
The second half was a different half entirely, as the Nittany Lions scored touchdowns on their first three possessions and ended up outscoring Michigan State, 35-0. Quarterback Trace McSorley at one point in the half completed 12 straight passes for 249 yards and three touchdowns. He has now thrown a touchdown pass in each of his last 13 games, dating back to last year’s TaxSlayer Bowl.
Chris Godwin caught two of McSorley’s touchdown passes on deep balls from 34 and 59 yards. Mike Gesicki had a 45-yard touchdown catch as well, while Andre Robinson added a 40-yard catch for a score.
On the ground, Saquon Barkley and Robinson had touchdowns while five different Nittany Lion running backs had at least one carry. This is a position Penn State has recruited heavily in the past few years and the depth at the position really showed in this game.
“We’ve done a great job developing the guys we have,” Franklin said. “We’re excited about that position. [The offensive line] did a nice job as well.”
Michigan State workhorse tailback LJ Scott carried 16 times for a pedestrian 59 yards as the Spartans were only able to muster 2.6 yards per carry. Quarterback Damion Terry played well in the first half, completing seven passes on 12 attempts for 101 yards. However, injuries to both of these players limited the Spartan offense in the second half as they were not able to muster a single point.
A couple of Penn State players made the history books as well, Gesicki is now the single-season leader in receiving yards (610) by a tight end in Penn State history while McSorley is now fourth all time in the single-season Penn State passing record books with 2,976 yards through the air.
Speaking of history, the Nittany Lions will now have a chance in their inaugural Big Ten Championship Game to take home their first Big Ten title since league expansion in 2011 and they are looking for their fourth Big Ten championship.
“Penn State was a dominant program throughout those years and we want to bring it back to that,” McSorley said. “For us to be starting that conversation again, I think it’s huge.”
The Nittany Lions will match up against No. 6 Wisconsin Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The Badgers are making their conference-record fourth championship game appearance. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. on FOX.
When asked about his team’s success and expectations this season and how the team has prepared themselves for the national spotlight, Franklin kept it simple.
“We’re right on schedule.”
Tom Shively is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.