As far as comebacks go, Penn State impressed. Both with the season and the game.
We’re talking about 2016, when the Nittany Lions earned the program’s fourth Big Ten Conference title. After the season’s first four games, Penn State sported a 2-2 record while preparing for a feisty Minnesota squad that was coming to Happy Valley the following Saturday.
That’s when the fate of Penn State’s 2016 season started to change.
A long touchdown pass to receiver Irvin Charles. A late scramble from Trace McSorley. And a 40-yard field goal from Tyler Davis with two seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime. That led to a game-winning dash from Saquon Barkley, which led to a blowout Homecoming win over Maryland, which led to the iconic win over No. 2 Ohio State, which led to, well, you know.
Penn State advanced to Indianapolis off of the strength of several comeback wins and strong second half play, including being tied with Purdue at halftime and trailing Indiana by 10 in the second half. The Nittany Lions won those games 62-24 and 45-31, respectively, setting up a memorable scene for the team’s regular season finale at Beaver Stadium.
Ohio State and Michigan played at noon, and their game was still ongoing as Penn State and Michigan State kicked at 3:30. Penn State needed a loss from the Wolverines, coupled with a win over the Spartans, to win the Big Ten’s East Division. In the first half, during a break between plays, the home crowd erupted, signaling that the Buckeyes had just upended the Wolverines in overtime.
Penn State then ran away from Michigan State, 45-12, which gave way to an on-field trophy presentation and James Franklin telling the packed crowd that “this is just the beginning.”
Franklin was right.
The following Saturday, Penn Staters converged on Indianapolis, where the Nittany Lions fell behind 28-7 late in the second quarter to Wisconsin.
McSorley and receiver Saeed Blacknall connected on two long touchdown strikes (40 yards, 70 yards), and Barkley added a score both on the ground and through the air. The latter on an oft-referenced wheel route against future first-round NFL draft pick TJ Watt.
A last-minute stop on fourth down sealed the win for Penn State, and the celebration, led by the entire Blue Band that traveled to the game, was on.
“Running their winning streak to nine games in their now patented dramatic fashion, the No. 7 Nittany Lions, improbable winners of their first division title last week, fell behind No. 7 Wisconsin, winners of their division title for the fourth time in six years, 28–7, in the first 29 minutes of the sixth Big Ten Championship Game.
But that simply meant the Lions had the Badgers exactly where they wanted them—with a 210 to 104 yard margin in total offense, a 15:41 to 9:07 advantage in time of possession and a 21-point lead in score.
Over the final 31 minutes of playing time, the never-say-die Lions outscored the Badgers, 31–3, to seal a 38–31 triumph and a trip to the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2, 2017.”
You can view photos from both the 2016 Big Ten championship and the 2017 Rose Bowl against USC on our Flickr page.
Alumni and fans can hear more about the 2016 team on tonight’s episode of The Football Letter Live, which features offensive lineman Paris Palmer. You can register online or tune in on Facebook at 8 p.m.
For more on The Football Letter, including online archives (requires Alumni Association member log-in), click here.
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