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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, linebacker Jason Cabinda and quarterback Trace McSorley all joined the Big Ten Football Championship Game conference call this afternoon ahead of the Wisconsin matchup Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Nittany Lions downed Michigan State 45-12 to earn a share of the Big Ten East Division title, earning a spot in the championship game Saturday at Beaver Stadium helped out by an Ohio State win against Michigan.
Separated into 10 minute segments, the trio of Nittany Lions talked everything from big plays to the buzz in Happy Valley following Penn State's third Big Ten regular season title in program history.
One common theme united the three though, a unique approach from the offseason throughout the year, focused on achieving a championship standard, something that's been embedded in their mindset for more than just the last eight consecutive wins.
"That's something that we talked about before the season started, we started talking about championships and focusing on the little things to get there," Barkley said.
For Cabinda, it's simply an awesome experience to see all the hard work and dedication from the offseason begin to come to fruition.
"Really this is the vision that we've had from the get-go in the beginning of the season and really through the offseason, we've been talking about winning a championship here and this is always the goal and the vision and what we've planned to do."
Check out a few more notes from today's teleconference.
Saquon Barkley -
- Barkley opened up with a quick note on Wisconsin's defense, which has limited opponents to just 13.7 points per game through the regular season, good for second in the conference and third nationally. The Badgers have also logged a national-best 21 interceptions this season.
"Wisconsin has a really good defense and they have the numbers to show for it" Barkley said. "They have a bunch of studs over there, so we have to come out really focused. It's going to be a really tough game, a physical Big Ten game and we have to come out ready for it."
- Barkley noted how the Nittany Lions have only benefitted from depth at the running back position, most recently illustrated by back-to-back fourth-quarter touchdowns from Andre Robinson against Michigan State and a career-high performance from Miles Sanders at Rutgers with 85 yards on five attempts.
"We have that next man up mentality," Barkley said. "Obviously you don't want to see a teammate go down or not be able to finish a game, but you have to get the win and you have to be ready for your team when you're called on."
Jason Cabinda -
- Following the win against the Spartans, Cabinda noted there has been a tangible buzz on campus as students are arriving back to campus, eager to support the team as it prepares for the trip to Indianapolis.
"They call it Happy Valley for a reason," Cabinda said. "I don't remember the last time I've seen Happy Valley this happy. There's just a buzz around the whole community, everyone's talking about the team and really what we've been able to accomplish so far this year."
- Cabinda also took a quick look back at the Minnesota overtime victory, a moment where he was both pleased with the defense's next man up mentality as well as how the win revealed glimpses of true character.
"You had young guys in there stepping up like Brandon Smith and Manny Bowen with some linebackers out and guys were stepping up," Cabinda said. "To get that win in OT and continue to see guys fight and grind, it was huge and it just shows the kind of character this team has."
Trace McSorley -
- McSorley recalled a moment a preseason camp last year where he realized Barkley was going to be a special piece of the Penn State offense.
"There was one run that he had, kind of broke outside and we were doing a live drill and he made one cut and was gone. It was one of those cuts that you don't see all the time, it was pretty special just to see him do that."
- McSorley talked about the key to Penn State's explosive offense, which ranks among the best in college football in terms of long yardage plays. Averaging a national-best 16.17 yards per completion, McSorley is among the nation's best with the deep ball, slotted top five in passes of 20-, 30- or 40-plus yards.
"I think a big key has been our offensive line," McSorley said. "They've been doing a great job with protection all year, giving us quarterbacks time to look down field to take those shots, trying to get explosive plays, letting our receivers work on the outside."
He also noted Penn State's ability to utilize play-action with Barkley, leveraging his threat to opponents out of the back field to create one-on-one opportunity for Penn State's deep group of talented wide receivers.
"You have guys like Chirs [Godwin], Saeed [Blacknall] and DaeSean [Hamilton] outside, and the kind of talent at wide receiver, it helps get those guys on one-on-one matchups and we're confident in their ability to win those matchups."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As Penn State head coach James Franklin noted postgame Saturday, the 2016 regular season has come to a close, but a new challenge though, is now on the horizon as the seventh-ranked Nittany Lions sped past Michigan State, 45-12, on the way to a Big Ten East Division title.
Backed by the mission to send a special senior class out with nothing less than win in their final game at Beaver Stadium, Penn State was on the grind from the very start of the game. The Spartans though, came out with chunk play after chunk play, scoring on their first four consecutive drives, as the Nittany Lions stalled slightly on offense.
It was the Nittany Lion defense though, that proved relentless from the start, limiting Michigan State to just four field goals on consecutive trips to the red zone.
"In the first half, we kind of struggled getting them off schedule on first and second downs," senior defensive end Evan Schwan said. "But as soon as they got into the red zone every time, it was kind of an all or nothing mentality."
The all or nothing mentality certainly paid dividends as defensive end Garrett Sickels came off the edge to bring Michigan State quarterback Damion Terry back for a loss of five on the first Spartan scoring drive, before Terry rushed an incomplete pass on third-and-goal, nearly sacked by a blitzing Brandon Bell.
On the second Spartan scoring drive, it was defensive end Ryan Buchholz who broke through to bring Michigan State running back LJ Scott down for a loss of five before Terry once again threw incomplete, with well executed coverage in the end zone from corner John Reid.
Linebacker Manny Bowen highlighted the opening half, speeding around the edge to sack MSU quarterback Tyler O'Connor for a loss of nine on third-and-5 as the Spartans opted for their third field goal.
"The fact that we stopped them and they couldn't get into the end zone was a huge momentum swinger," Schwan said.
Momentum certainly shifted in favor of the Nittany Lions, as Franklin noted postgame that his halftime message in the locker room was simply to settle the team down and make necessary adjustments to create movement on the offensive side of the ball for the team to make plays in the second half.
With Penn State already proving time and again this season the ability to find success in second half adjustments, those big plays plays dazzled the senior day crowd of more than 97,000 at home in Beaver Stadium.
Penn State's explosive offense came alive in the second half as Penn State scored five unanswered touchdowns to secure the win. Four of the five touchdowns came on long yardage pass plays, with quarterback Trace McSorley making gutsy passes of at least 34 yards, in a career-high effort.
McSorley found wide receiver Chris Godwin for 34-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter to spark the offense.
"All season long we've been one big play away from getting it done," tight end Mike Gesicki said. "We came out and when Chris caught that touchdown, that gave us the spark that we needed and that just kind of propelled it."
Gesicki also contributed to the offensive momentum, following Godwin with a 45-yard touchdown grab of his own from McSorley, before Godwin added a 59-yard touchdown reception a few minutes later.
Gesicki closed out a productive day with 64 receiving yards, improving his season total to 610 yards, which sets a Penn State tight end single season record.
Check out Gesicki's touchdown catch below.
Connecting with McSorley, the Godwin-Gesicki duo accounted for 18 of Penn State's 21 third-quarter points with the Nittany Lions only having possession for 4:51 during the entire frame.
McSorley finished with a nearly unstoppable performance, logging his school-record tying fourth 300-yard passing performance with a career-best 376 yards through the air.
"Trace has got a really good feel in the pocket stepping up, knowing when he needs to run and knowing when he has a little bit more time to keep his eyes down the field to make big plays," Franklin said. "It's been fun to watch those guys make plays and it's been fun to watch Trace grow up in front of our eyes."
As the Nittany Lions prepare to look toward their first appearance in the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis, Penn State is confidently guided by McSorley, who is the fourth Penn State quarterback to lead his team to 10 wins in his first year as the starting quarterback since Daryll Clark in 2008.
More from McSorley following the win below.
A Few Notes from the Big Ten
Championship Game Coaches Conference Call
- On Sunday afternoon's call, Franklin only echoed his point about Penn State's success in the second half. For context, Penn State is currently outscoring its opponents 274-102 in the second half on the year, helped out by the Nittany Lions' 35-0 run to close out the final half against the Spartans.
What has been the key to the success in second half adjustments this season?
"We're a young football team," Franklin said. "People do things to attack us based on game film, which is smart, but they come up with some things that are going to give us pause or give us some question or concern and when you have a young line - I think last week we traveled 13 linemen and either eight or nine were freshmen. People have done a good job attacking those guys and when those guys haven't had the experience that most offensive lines have, they don't play as aggressive as they need to, and it takes them a few reps to settle down. We're able to go in at halftime, get them settled down, explain to them what's going on."
- Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst had high praise for McSorley noting that he has really enjoyed watching him play this season, up until it became clear the Badgers would have to square off against McSorley and the Nittany Lions in the upcoming Big Ten Championship game.
"He makes a lot of plays," Chryst said. "Certainly pushing the ball down the field, he competes and has a great energy about him, obviously is talented and makes plays with his arm, makes plays with his feet."
Senior day in Beaver Stadium kicked off with a few Nittany Lion seniors heading the team arrival before all the Penn State seniors, managers and their families were honored in a pregame ceremony prior to the game. Follow the team in to Beaver Stadium and check out a few highlights from the ceremony.
Paring up with the Central Pennsylvania Food Banks and Penn State Athletics, Weis Markets has teamed up to fight hunger throughout the Central Pennsylvania region. Commissioning the Fight Hunger program, Penn State donated nearly 2,000 meal through the Stuff a Bus campaign, while also helping through various product purchases in Weis stores. Kevin Broe, VP of merchandising was in attendance today to present the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank with a $200,000 pledge from Weis Markets and Penn State Athletics for a state of the art Healthy Food Hub in Williamsport.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - No. 7 Penn State Football is set to wrap up the 2016 regular season at home, hosting Michigan State Saturday in a Senior Day matchup at Beaver Stadium.
The Nittany Lions (9-2, 7-1) and the Spartans (3-8, 1-7) are set to meet for the 31st time in program history in a 3:30 p.m. kickoff on ESPN.
"We're playing a good football team," Penn State head coach James Franklin said. "They're talented. They're well-coached. It's going to be a real challenge for us. We're going to need this place rocking on Saturday."
Ranked within the top 10 for the first time since 2009, Penn State has won its last seven consecutive games, including a 39-0 win on the road at Rutgers last week. The Nittany Lions will also look to extend their home winning streak, entering the matchup with a 6-0 mark at Beaver Stadium this year, with wins in 12 of the last 13 games at home.
Last week, the Nittany Lions limited Rutgers to just 87 yards of total offense on the way to their largest road shutout since joining the Big Ten Conference in 1993.
Quarterback Trace McSorley led the way with 265 yards of total offense, completing 17-of-33 attempts for 210 yards through the air and one touchdown. The Nittany Lions were also productive on the ground, totaling 339 yards and three touchdowns.
Kicker Tyler Davis also logged a career-high performance, logging four field goals and three extra points for 15 of Penn State's 39 points to earn Big Ten Co-Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
The Spartans are led by head coach Mark Dantonio, who is in his 10th season at the helm.
"We're playing the defending Big Ten championship team," Franklin said. "We're also playing a team the last two weeks that has played really well. They played the No. 2 team in the country and lost by one point. The week before they scored a bunch of points and shut people out."
Michigan State enters the matchup coming off of a 17-16 loss to second-ranked Ohio State last weekend. The Spartans secured their lone Big Ten victory the week before, shutting out Rutgers 49-0 at home.
The Spartans own a slim advantage in the all-time series against the Nittany Lions at 15-14-1, having won last year's regular season finale in East Lansing. Michigan State has claimed wins in each of the last three meetings, including a 34-10 win in the Spartans' last trip to Happy Valley in 2014.
Pregame Reading -
What To Watch For: Penn State
1. Led by quarterback Trace McSorley, Penn State is averaging 35.8 points per game, which ranks third in the conference. Within the Nittany Lions' seven-game winning streak, Penn State is averaging 39.7 points per game, having scored in each of the last 17 consecutive quarters. McSorley is at the helm of the offense, as he enters the week ranked first in the conference and second in the FBS national standings with 15.57 passing yards per completion.
2. Another key to Penn State's potent point-scoring offense is running back Saquon Barkley, who leads the conference with 139.8 all-purpose yards per game, also atop the league standings with 1,205 rushing yards on the year and 109.5 per game. Barkley's 16 total touchdowns on the year are ranked 10th nationally and first in the conference, slotted as the most by a Nittany Lion since Larry Johnson had 20 in 2002.
3. Postgame at Rutgers, James Franklin noted that although he prefers not to make it a signature part of the program, the Nittany Lions have been tremendously successful in the second half. On the year, Penn State is outscoring its opponents 140-40 in the second half, with the the Nittany Lion offense ranked tied for third in the FBS in second half scoring (21.73) and fourth in fourth quarter scoring (12.91).
What To Watch For: Michigan State
1. Franklin stressed earlier this week that the Spartans have been playing some of their best football in the last few weeks leading up to Saturday's matchup at Beaver Stadium. That's not unusual for the Spartans though as Dantonio has guided his teams to a 25-9 record in November. With the shutout against Rutgers and a near victory against No. 2 Ohio State, Michigan State has won 19 of its last 25 games in the month of November.
2. The Spartans have rejuvenated their ground game in the second half of the season having totaled more than 200 rushing yards in four of their last five games. Most recently, Michigan State rushed for 207 yards against the Buckeyes led by a career-high performance from LJ Scott, who scored on a 1-yard run to put the Spartans within one, 17-16, with less than five minutes to play.
3. A sophomore running back, Scott has been the highlight of the Spartan rushing attack this year. Entering Saturday's matchup just 65 yards shy of the 1,000-yard mark this season, Scott has 935 yards on 168 attempts with a team-high six rushing touchdowns on the year. He closed out his career-high effort against Ohio State with 236 all-purpose yards, including 160 rushing yards and a career-long 64-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter.
The Final Word -
When the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten in 1993, the conference established the Land Grant Trophy between Penn State and Michigan State, presented to the winner in what was each school's yearly regular-season finale up until 2010. The Land Grant Trophy honors both programs for their unique place in history as pioneer land-grant institutions in the United States.
The Land Grant Trophy is one of two conference trophy games the Nittany Lions have played this season, having claimed the Governor's Victory Bell following a 29-26 overtime win against Minnesota in early October.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State football
student-athletes have a lot to be grateful for on a special holiday like
With a week off from classes due to Thanksgiving break and an early morning arrival from the Rutgers road trip, the Nittany Lions certainly did not spend their entire Monday off-day resting this week.
Rather, the team came together to show their gratitude for the tremendous support they've received throughout the community since arriving at Penn State.
The Monday off-day brought the perfect time for nearly 70 Nittany Lions to serve the community. Dividing into groups, Penn State football student-athletes spread out into the community to give back.
One group of nearly 30 Nittany Lions traveled to the Centre County Youth Service Bureau for a fun-filled afternoon of games, and even a little dancing with Centre County youth in the area.
From air hockey to checkers, to foosball and board games, the Nittany Lions spent time interacting with students after school Monday afternoon.
Located right in Centre County, the Youth Service Bureau serves children, youth and families with a variety of different residential, family and community based programs, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters all throughout the area.
Another group of just over 40 Nittany Lions traveled to The Village at Penn State. There, the Nittany Lions shared pizza for lunch, while also taking photos and visiting with the elderly members of the Village community.
Penn State is set to host Michigan State in the 2016 regular season finale Saturday in a 3:30 p.m. kick at Beaver Stadium.
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