A record-setting Big Ten championship game performance from Penn State quarterback Trace McSorely gave his team all it needed in a 38-31 comeback victory over the No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers.
The sophomore QB struggled early, but settled in and managed to throw for a Big Ten championship game record 384 yards with four touchdowns on 22-31 passing.
That performance gave Penn State its first outright Big Ten championship since 1995 and gave plenty for the College Football Playoff committee to consider against one of the nation’s best defenses.
A game that seemed under Wisconsin’s control turned on a dime, or more specifically on the arm of McSorely.
Wisconsin began the game with plenty of confidence on both sides of the ball, going up 28-7 with 5:15 to play in the second quarter. A large part of that effort was Wisconsin’s ability cause issues for McSorley and Co.
UW linebacker T.J. Watt got home on McSorely to force a sack and fumble that was recovered by Ryan Connelly and returned 12 yards for a touchdown. It was 21-7 Badgers at that point, but things only got worse as the Badgers capitalized on a bad snap over the head of McSorely.
Five plays later and it was a 28-7 lead for Wisconsin and the game seemingly well in hand.
It felt that way in part because senior running back Corey Clement was breaking off big plays. He ended the game with 164 yards and a 67-yard touchdown on 21 attempts.
However, the real story of this game was what Penn State was able to do to Wisconsin’s vaunted defense in the second half.
All Penn State did was respond with 21 unanswered points to tie the game up 28-28 with 4:22 to play in the third quarter.
It was done with the formula that has worked all season long for the Nittany Lions’ defense — big plays. First was McSorely connecting on a 40-yard touchdown pass to Saeed Blacknall, as Wisconsin defensive back Lubern Figaro over ran the pattern on the edge and Blacknall was easily off to the races.
That made the game 28-14 Wisconsin late in the second quarter, but halftime wasn’t the end of PSU’s momentum. Penn State held Wisconsin’s offense down on its opening series and then popped off a 70-yard touchdown to Blacknall to make it a one-score game.
Wisconsin had no answer once again, and Penn State marched down the field on an eight-play drive that ended with Barkley in the end zone and the game tied at 28-28 with 4:22 to play in the third quarter.
However, the Badgers ended the streak with a good drive of their own, capped off with a 23-yard field goal from Andrew Endicott to make it 31-28 w/ :16 left in the third quarter.
Penn State answered right back with McSorley’s fourth touchdown of the game, an 18-yard wheel route to running back Saquon Barkley early in the fourth quarter.
It was all over from there, as Wisconsin’s offense was stymied the rest of the way.
Penn State now awaits the results of the College Football Playoff committee on Sunday afternoon. With a win over Ohio State and the Big Ten title to their name, the question becomes how the committee rates the Nittany Lions versus the Washington Huskies.
For now though, a program near the brink of complete disaster just four years ago has once again reached the top of the Big Ten pyramid in incredible fashion.
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