BY JEFF BERNIER
On October 15th, the Wisconsin Badgers’ record sat at 4-2 following back to back losses to Michigan and Ohio State including a 1-2 record to begin Big Ten Conference play. With that, the Badgers and their fans’ playoff hopes were as good we gone. Fast forward to early December, Wisconsin now sits at 10-2 on the strength of 6 straight victories. They now have a chance to make the coveted final four teams. Quite a comeback, but not a surprise as the Badgers have made resiliency the norm in Madison lately. Especially this season, as Bucky and company have been ravaged by injuries and have had to overcome a plethora of adversity including a split quarterback situation, with a senior and a freshman both playing significant snaps.
The same could be said for the Nittany Lions of Penn State who also sat at 10-2 coming into Saturday night’s action where they would knock off the Wisconsin Badgers 38-31.
Austin Ramesh had a one yard touchdown run to open up the scoring for Wisconsin.
Following a Penn State punt after an opening drive 3 and out, Wisconsin running back Corey Clement detonated for a 67 yard run on the 2nd play from scrimmage, sending the Badgers fan sections of Lucas Oil Stadium into hysteria.
Just like that, it was 14-nothing Bucky.
It looked like smooth sailing for Wisconsin as they rushed out to a 14-nothing lead. However, Penn State hasn’t won 10 games by simply giving in.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley lead a strong drive for the Nittany Lions, going 75 yards on just 5 plays. McSorley lofted a perfectly thrown deep ball to tightend Mike Gesicki who simply out-jumped the Badgers corner for the ball. The 33 yard pass play made it 14-7 Wisconsin.
An early turning point in the game came after Penn State forced a Wisconsin punt on their next posession. Driving for the potential tie, the Nittany Lions would make a costly mistake. Senior Brian Gaia’s snap sailed over the head of McSorley causing a scramble for the loose ball, ultimately ending with a Badgers defensive touchdown by Ryan Connelly on the fumble recovery.
Facing a 21-7 deficit, Penn State would attempt to go for it on 4th and 2 from their own 42. The desperate move was completely baffling so early in the game. The Badgers would turn Penn State over on downs after forcing an errant throw.
Wisconsin tailback Dare Ogunbowale ran for a 7 yard score, stretching the Badgers’ lead out 28-7.
Penn State appeared to be in real trouble heading into halftime, save for a hyper efficient and equally clutch 90 yard drive. The Nittany Lions capped the drive with a 40 yard touchdown from McSorley to Saeed Blacknall with under a minute to go.
The 2016 Big Ten Championship game was a tale of two halves.
Completely overwhelmed in the first half, Penn State looked like a totally different team in the 2nd half. One missed field goal, one punt by the Badgers and two Nittany Lions touchdowns later, Penn State would pull even with Wisconsin, 28-28.
Wisconsin would finally score on a short field goal with 16 seconds remaining in the 3rd, making it 31-28 heading into the fourth.
It wouldn’t matter as fate had this one sealed. The Nittany Lions would continue the largest comeback in Big Ten Championship game history.
McShorley would connect with running back Saquon Barkley on a perfect loft throw in the back corner of the endzone for an 18 yard score.
A Penn State field goal made it 38-31.
Penn State would hold off a last ditch effort by the Badgers to tie the game in the closing minutes. The Nittany Lions would stuff the Badgers on a fourth and one; a play, that after a chain measurement, sealed the big comeback win for Penn State.
Trace McSorley absolutely shredded the Badgers secondary, airing the football out seemingly at will. McSorley completed 22 of 31 passes for a Big Ten Championship record 384 yards and 4 touchdowns.
As good as the Badgers defense had been this season, the secondary played their worst game of the season, looking invisible on some of Penn State’s long pass plays.
Saeed Blacknall caught 6 passes for 155 yards and two touchdowns. Daesean Hamilton hauled in 8 catches for 118 yards. The duo were the difference makers for the Nittany Lions.
Corey Clement ran for 164 yards on 21 carries for Wisconsin but was mostly a non factor after the first quarter. The senior ran for one score.
Senior quarterback Bart Houston’s conservative play, which worked for much of the first half, didn’t have enough juice to then generate a comeback for Wisconsin. Houston finished the game 16 for 21 for 174 yards with no scores.
Penn State will now have a great case to make the playoffs as one of the final four teams.
Wisconsin had a fine season and will play in a big bowl game for their efforts but it will be a season of what ifs for the University of Wisconsin and their diehard fans.
MORE PHOTOS (by Dan Garcia/The Early Registration)