Football: Wisconsin blows three-touchdown lead, falls to Penn State 38-31 in Big Ten title game

first_imgINDIANAPOLIS — It seemed too easy.The bounces, the calls, the everything, really, tilted in the favor of the University of Wisconsin football team during the first half of the Big Ten Championship Game Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The Badgers led 28-14 at the half, and the overwhelming feeling was that they’d cruise to a third conference title in six years.But Penn State’s play in the second half prevented that. The Nittany Lions outscored the Badgers 24-3 over the game’s final 30 minutes on their way to a 38-31 victory, their first championship in the conference’s title game era.“I honestly had faith,” junior safety D’Cota Dixon said after the game. “I never thought we were going to lose, even in the last minute. I thought we were going to get a turnover, get a first down, tie it. It’s on us. I personally will take responsibility as a safety on this team.”Dixon prays with some teammates before and after every game. This time, he could not find the words during the post-game prayer.“It just hurts so bad, sending out my brothers, especially the seniors, on this,” Dixon said while tears welled in his eyes. “We had a great opportunity this year. We had a lot of goals, a lot of plans, and we executed it all up until this one game.”Wisconsin had a final shot at tying the game late. With 1:05 left, UW lined up for a 4th-and-1 from the PSU 24-yard line. But senior running Corey Clement back could not earn that one yard, resulting in a turnover on downs and a Penn State win.“I should’ve been able to get one yard at least,” Clement, who rushed for 164 yards on 21 attempts, said. “That’s on my part, I should have kept my legs churning and dug it out somehow, find a way.”Sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley and the PSU offense tormented the UW secondary. He finished with 384 yards and four touchdowns on 22 of 31 passing, and attacked the overmatched Badgers deep all night, especially when the Wisconsin pass rush went absent. McSorley was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.UW entered Saturday allowing just 13.7 points per game, which ranked third in the country. Prior to Penn State, the most points UW gave up all season was 23 — to Ohio State, in overtime. The 435 total yards the defense yielded to PSU was the most it allowed to any team in 2016.Wisconsin kicker Andrew Endicott booted a 23-yard field goal to regain the lead, 31-28 as the third quarter wound down, but a 38-yard Penn State gain into Wisconsin territory from McSorley to receiver DaeSean Hamilton (eight catches, 118 yards) closed out the frame.Two plays later, Penn State took its first lead of the night. McSorley laid in a perfect ball to tailback Saquon Barkley, who finished with 83 rushing yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns, on a wheel route for an 18-yard score. The Nittany Lions led 35-31 with 13:41 left in the game, and they’d remain on top until the confetti fell.Wisconsin had a chance to get the ball back quickly, as the Nittany Lions were headed to a three-and-out, but the officials flagged inside linebacker Leon Jacobs for roughing the passer. That kept the drive alive, and Penn State’s Tyler Davis knocked through a 24-yard field goal with 5:24 remaining to make it 38-31, which would hold as the final score.The band played its way through a somber rendition of “Varsity” as the Penn State players corralled at midfield to celebrate while their fans chanted “We Want ‘Bama.” Two hours earlier, the scene seemed unrealistic.“I don’t like the fact we don’t get started as quickly as I think we can, but I do like the fact that I’m able to come in at halftime and say to our guys that we’re a second-half team,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said.Since its Nov. 12 game against Indiana, the Nittany Lions have outscored their opponents in the second half by a margin of 106-3 and came into the game averaging 13 points per game in the fourth quarter.It was all Badgers for the majority of the first half. The defense was rabid, punishing McSorley with forceful hits whenever the opportunity presented itself. The unit forced three-and-outs on Penn State’s first two offensive drives.The UW opened their first series in vintage Badger fashion, a 14-play, 81-yard drive over the span of eight minutes capped by a fullback dive from Austin Ramesh to make it 7-0. Wisconsin’s next possession was the opposite, but for good reason. Clement took a carry headed right, cut hard left, and streaked 67 yards down the UW sideline to make it 14-0 not even 12 minutes into the game.“I wish I could put it into words,” Clement said of the loss. “This game really doesn’t define how we played this whole season. I would have loved to finish Big Ten champs, but some things just don’t always work out in your favor.”On PSU’s ensuing drive, McSorley laid the foundation for his future air attack. Picking on junior Lubern Figaro, a reserve cornerback, McSorley found tight end Mike Gesiki on a 33-yard touchdown on a jump ball to make it 14-7.With less than 10 minutes left in the first half, a bad shotgun snap sailed over McSorely’s head. A pack of Badgers pursued the ball in the backfield, only for the football to somehow bounce into redshirt sophomore inside linebacker Ryan Connelly’s hands at the 12-yard line. Connelly, complete with a spin move, trudged into the end zone to make it 21-7.Everything seemed to be going the Badgers way.With his team on its own 42-yard line, Franklin left his offense on the field for a 4th-and-2. Fifth-year senior Vince Biegel hurried McSorley, forcing an errant throw and giving the Badgers great field position, which they took advantage of with fifth-year senior Dare Ogunbowale’s seven-yard touchdown run. Wisconsin led 28-7 with 5:15 until halftime.Things were progressing swimmingly. UW had a chance to step on Penn State’s throat when redshirt junior outside linebacker T.J. Watt sacked McSorley on another fourth-down attempt to the PSU 42. However, the Badgers went three-and-out.A 40-yard touchdown pass, featuring Figaro getting burned again, from McSorley to wideout Saeed Blacknall made it a two touchdown game 58 seconds before halftime.Offensively, Penn State’s second half began the same way the first half ended for them — a long touchdown from McSorley to Blacknall. After Endicott missed a 48-yard field goal on UW’s first possession, the two connected on a 70-yard bomb down the middle of the field, beating junior Natrell Jamerson, another reserve corner, and Dixon, who was late getting to the middle of the field. That cut Wisconsin’s lead to 28-21 with 10:58 left in the third quarter.“It’s tough when you’re in situations like that, when you can’t stop it pretty much,” senior cornerback Sojourn Shelton said while holding back tears. “They kept making good plays. We were in position and everything.”Barkley tied the game with 4:22 left in the third quarter on a three-yard run, finishing off an eight-play 63-yard drive. The Badgers would regain the lead on Endicott’s field goal for one minute and 35 seconds before Barkley’s touchdown catch put the Nittany Lions up for good.last_img read more