Oh what a ride it has been. And what a way to finish it. Everyone, including this Nittany Lion team, came into this game knowing exactly what was at stake. Win, and with enough help you’re in the championship game. Lose, and a ton of momentum is gone. For the first ten minutes of the game, Penn State played like a team who didn’t know its future. The offense played tight, having negative yardage with less than five minutes left in the first quarter. The defense, while not as dreadful, still allowed to long Michigan State drives that led to field goals.
And then it happened. The crowd cheered. The news, what James Franklin tried so hard to keep away from his team, found a way to their sideline. Ohio State had won. All they had to do the rest of the way was beat the Spartans and the Big Ten East was theirs. Penn State took the ensuing possession after the news broke, and while it only came away with a field goal, it looked like a more cohesive offense. It looked like a team who knew everything was squarely in their hands. It looked like a team that, after all it had been through in the past few years, was ready to do the impossible.
And what a ride has it been for this team. Nobody expected the Nittany Lions to even be in the conversation this season. Next season was supposed to be the year. Even James Franklin himself sometimes hinted at that. And, in September, that looked to be the case. With a 2-2 record and losses to Pitt and Michigan—the latter in embarrassing fashion—the conversation wasn’t even about competing for the Big Ten. The conversation was about whether Penn State would make a bowl game, whether Franklin was the right coach, and whether he should be let go before the end of the season. Fast-forward two months, and now the conversation is about Big Ten East Champion Penn State, and potential Big Ten (and national) Coach of the Year James Franklin.
All of this was possible because the team believed. The team believed in themselves. The team believed in their coach. The team believed that their future was still ahead of them. The players promised, after that Michigan loss, that Penn State would not play like that again. They’ve kept their promise. They have found ways to win every game in front of them since that loss. They came back from a 10-point game to beat Minnesota. They exposed a Maryland team that wasn’t as good as their record indicated. They kept Ohio State to their lowest scoring output of the season. They battled against Purdue, routed Iowa, avoided an upset against Indiana, took care of business against Rutgers, and once again made it rain in the second half in this game, to make sure everyone knew who was going to the Big Ten Championship Game. This is a testament to this team’s belief in their coach and in themselves.
Credit Michigan State for giving it their best. They came into this game with nothing to play for but their pride, and made it an absolute game in the first half. Even with mounting injuries on offense, they were still able to move the ball enough to come away with four scoring drives in the first half, continually keeping Penn State away from the ball on offense, and limiting the Lions’ opportunities to blow the game open on their own end. Unfortunately for the Spartans, those drives always led to field goals. It was only a matter of time before Penn State started answering field goals with touchdowns.
As the game went on, Michigan State’s lack of depth showed, being unable to overcome all the injuries they sustained, and a game they led 12-10 suddenly was 12-31 before they could even react to it. Penn State’s second half surge was just too much, the meaning of this game too big, and energy of the Nittany Lions too high for Michigan State to compete.
What else can you say about these Nittany Lions? They’ve given us everything you could probably wish for. Adversity, frustration, excitement, angst, and true and utter jubilation, just to name a few. Now, they get an opportunity to cap it all of with a Big Ten title. How ‘bout that?
Three Key Takeaways
1) Saquon Barkley, please be OK - Barkley went down with what looked like an ankle injury late in the 3rd quarter and didn’t come back. He was seen walking around, however, so hopefully he’ll be able to go next week.
2) McSorley My Lord! - Trace McSorley’s final stat line in the game: 17-23, 376 yards, four touchdowns. Dude went Beast Mode in this game.
3) Wanna run it up again Marky Mark? - Franklin clearly remembered last year’s game, and he made sure Mark Dantonio got the message. With the game well out of hand, Trace McSorley found Andre Robinson for another touchdown when they were already up 38-12. This was a statement game for both the opposing team and the nation. Penn State is back.