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Blake Gillikin: An Immediate Impact

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By Arielle Sargent,

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Just a little more than a year ago, Penn State true freshman punter Blake Gillikin was busy leading his high school football team to its first state championship since 1978. 

In December 2015, Gillikin helped guide Westminster high school to comeback victory against Blessed Trinity in overtime in the Georgia High School Association's Class AAA championship game at the Georgia Dome.

Staring in nearly every kicking role in the state championship game, Gillikin converted on three field goals, including a 53-yarder, logged three punts of at least 58 yards with two sailing for 62 and 65 yards and placed six kickoffs in the end zone for touchbacks. 

Gillikin had already been committed to Penn State for five months prior to winning the state championship.

Penn State wasn't the automatic choice for Gillikin though, who hadn't even really considered Happy Valley until the Nittany Lion staff reached out to him.

"I always watched Penn State on TV, there's fantastic tradition," Gillikin said. "The jerseys, they are iconic, whenever you turn on the TV you see that blue stripe on the white helmet and it just reminds you of something bigger."

With his sights on something bigger, it was the entire university that drew the attention of the promising prospect, who ranked as high as second nationally in the South Region.

"Living in SEC country, I didn't really want to stay down south at all, so it was pretty much the perfect fit for me," Gillikin said.

Tradition and academic reputation weren't the only pieces of Penn State that sold Gillikin on his decision, as the electric Nittany Lion coaching staff was also a part of the process. 

"It's definitely the energy that they bring every single day," Gillikin said. "Whether it's recruiting, on the field, off the field, especially coach Huff and coach Franklin who I interact with the most."

Perhaps one of the biggest pieces of Gillikin's decision to attend Penn State though, meant separating from his very first teammate, twin brother Tyler for the first time.

For Blake and Tyler though, it's actually something the two of them wanted. While Blake chose Penn State, Tyler was headed to Northwestern to join the Wildcats as a long snapper.

"It's been hard being away from him because we've always kind of been attached at the hip," Gillikin said with a smile. 

Come Oct. 7, 2017 though, Blake and Tyler will meet for the first time ever on opposite teams, when the Nittany Lions travel to Northwestern for a Big Ten matchup at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois. 

"I'm really looking forward to that," Gillikin said, especially since we've always had that connection on the court and on the field every since we were growing up."

"My parents being student-athletes in college kind of pushed me to try to figure out how I could be the same way and I guess kicking is just the path that is the clearest for me"
Blake Gillikin

It was a final trip to a Nittany Lion satellite camp in Atlanta that clinched the final decision for Gillikin.

"Having my mom being supportive at that point was a big deal to me, because my dad had really been the only one to visit," Gillikin said."

Drawing from parents Taryn and Walt, the student-athlete lifestyle is something Blake had always planned on, and their support in his decision meant everything.

"My parents being student-athletes in college kind of pushed me to try to figure out how I could be the same way and I guess kicking is just the path that is the clearest for me," Gillikin said.

Gillikin's parents both swam competitively in college, his mother on the team at Kansas and his father a member of the team at the University of North Carolina. 

"Family is a really big part of my life, I only have two grandparents and two parents, I have one uncle and that's about it," Gillikin said. "I have a small family but I love them so much, they've been a huge part of my life so far." 


In the summer of 2016, Gillikin was headed to Penn State for preseason camp, where he would immediately enter in to a tough competition for a starting role on the roster.

"Coming in, coach Huff told me off the bat that it was a competition, no one had won the job before they got here and coming in, Danny Pasquariello and Chris Gulla are great punters and I was just looking forward to coming out to camp and showing what I could do," Gillikin said.

A competitor at heart, Gillikin welcomed the challenge and got right work, making the most of his Nittany Lion debut and working toward his ultimate goal to earn the starting job in the season opener against Kent State.

Come September 3rd, it was Gillikin who had emerged with the starting job, gliding through the tunnel at Beaver Stadium on to the field prior to his very first opportunity as a Nittany Lion.

"It was the first drive," Gillikin said with a laugh. "I was praying that we were going to get a first down and it didn't happen so I was standing there shaking on the sideline, if I'm going to be honest. It was pretty nerve wracking. I had played in the state championship game, a big game, high stakes, but this was Kent State, obviously the first game of the season at home and I shouldn't have been that nervous, but I was trying prove myself." 

Gillikin didn't exactly think he hit it that well, but when he looked up and saw his first collegiate boot spiraling high through the air, he thought it might turn out okay. 

The 49-yard punt sailed to the Kent State 18-yard line only to be waived off for fair catch, greeted by the deafening roar of a cheering crowd in the stands at Beaver Stadium. 

"Building off of that, I don't think I had the best game of my life, but I think starting out well kind of set the standard for me for the rest of the year, especially knowing what I could do on that first punt when I was literally shaking standing on the field, it kind of gave me more confidence as the season went on," Gillikin said.

In his collegiate debut, Gillikin averaged 47.0 yards per punt, which placed him fourth among freshmen in Penn State history and first among true freshman.

Just one piece of Penn State's significantly improved special teams unit, it didn't take long for Gillikin to build consistency, as he has continued flipping field position for the Nittany Lions on each impressive occasion. Just the third true freshman punter in program history since 1946, Gillikin is averaging 42.1 yards per punt, good for third in the conference standings.

He followed his Kent State debut with a career-long 69-yard punt at Pitt, which ranks second all-time among the longest punts by a Nittany Lion freshman - just one of 10 punts he has booted this year measuring at least 50 yards.

When asked about the key to his calm demeanor, Gillikin is quick to direct all credit for his seemingly seasoned confidence to long snapper Tyler Yazujian. 

"Yaz has been a key component in my confidence because just knowing the ball is always going to be there - we had that one mishap against Ohio State, but I wouldn't really blame that on him because the conditions were pretty tough," Gillikin said.

For Gillikin, the steadiness from the veteran fifth-year senior has made all the difference in not just his performance on the field, but in the entire transition from high school to the collegiate game.

"He was my roommate in camp, he is my roommate on every road trip, every home game, he has just helped calm me down when I've been high or low, like every true freshman is," Gillikin said.

The road hasn't been perfect, but Gillikin has handled the ups and downs of his true freshman season without panic, dazzling fans with his spot-on placement and eye-opening hang time, with just a few challenging situations along the way. 

First there was Ohio State, where an errant snap sent Gillikin scrambling to the end zone with the Buckeyes barreling toward him before falling on the ball for the safety.

"There were a lot of things going through my mind as you could imagine," Gillikin said. "Thankfully the guy who was running behind me didn't get there before I did but I was praying that I wasn't about to get smacked when I fell on the ball," Gillikin said.

For special teams coordinator and running backs coach Charles Huff, Gillikin's decision making resulted in a pivotal play for the Nittany Lions, who engineered one of the most impressive comebacks of the season, knocking off the Buckeyes in front of a Penn State White Out crowd of more than 107,000.

"if you think back on it, Ohio State missed an extra point," Huff said. "So then we give up the safety, but the safety only counts as one point at that time. The hidden yardage or the hidden parts of the game, a lot of people don't see that. Now if you give up a touchdown, that's five points, that's totally different."

For Huff, Gillikin's unique ability to be still in the moment, is exactly what the Nittany Lions have been searching for in the process of re-energizing the special teams culture. 

"What happens is, you take a bad play and you don't let it become a catastrophe," Huff said.


With a season-high seven punts, Gillikin placed three inside the 20 against the Buckeyes as well as one inside the 10. On the year, Gillikin is sending nearly 40 percent of his punts inside the 20-yardline with 21 on the year.

Gillkin found himself in a similar situation just a few weeks later, as a mishandled snap in the first quarter at Indiana sent him chasing the ball once again. 

"There were two things that were going to happen," Gillikin said. "I thought I'm either going to pick it up and get this punt off, or I'm about to get clobbered."

So Gillikin picked up the ball, and staring down a pair of Indiana defensive linemen darting full speed ahead, he took a few steps under the immense pressure and got the punt off. Officially ruled a 22-yard punt, Gillikin forced the Hoosiers to the 40 yard line for one of 18 fair catches this season.

By the time the Big Ten Championship arrived, Gillikin was just as fresh as ever, on the heels of another consistent performance which featured two punts downed inside the Michigan State 20-yard line and one at the Spartan 2-yard line in Penn State's Big Ten East Division clinching victory.

"The Big Ten Championship was probably the calmest I've been all year just because there weren't any conditions, which was a big factor but it was really the confidence that I could keep doing what I've been doing in practice and in games," Gillikin said.

With the Rose Bowl Game drawing closer each day, there's not even a hint of anxiety in the mind of the True Freshman All-American, who also garnered honorable mention All-Big Ten accolades not more than a month a half ago.

"I can't do any of that without the other guys on the punt team, if I can't get the ball off without Yaz or the guys protecting me, none of that ever happens, so with team success comes individual recognition," Gillikin said. 

Rather, he can be found preparing like he always does, with his teammates by his side.

"I couldn't be successful without the other two guys Danny Pasquariello and Gulla," Gillikin said. "they kind of took me under their wing this summer and this season. I had a few bad games but they were always there supporting me, especially Yaz, he has been a steady rock to me all season."

Rose Bowl Rewind: Penn State vs. Oregon - 1995

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By Arielle Sargent,

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With Penn State's fourth Rose Bowl appearance less than two weeks away, this is the second look back at the three previous times in program history the Nittany Lions have traveled to Pasadena for the "Granddaddy of Them All."

In part one, we went back to Penn State's first bowl game appearance following the 1922 season, where Penn State and USC met in the current Rose Bowl Stadium for the first time in their storied histories.

Part two of Penn State's Rose Bowl rewind flashes forward to 1994, the Nittany Lions' first undefeated season as a member of the Big Ten Conference in only their second year in the league. In becoming the first Big Ten team ever to post a 12-0 record, the Nittany Lions were the first league team since Ohio State in 1968 to register an unblemished slate.

Signature to the 1994 team that defeated Oregon in the 1995 Rose Bowl Game, though, was one of the most potent and explosive offenses in NCAA, Big Ten and program history.

1995 Game Aerial1.jpg

Penn State captured its first of four Big Ten titles during a remarkable 1994 season, setting a plethora of school and Big Ten records along the way. Five Nittany Lions earned first-team All-America honors: running back Ki-Jana Carter, tight end Kyle Brady, wide receiver Bobby Engram, guard Jeff Hartings and quarterback Kerry Collins, who earned the Maxwell and Davey O'Brien awards. Engram also won the inaugural Biletnikoff Award, presented the nation's top wide receiver. The five Nittany Lion All-Americans marked the most since six were selected from the 1978 squad. 

The list of team and individual honors, awards, records and accomplishments could go on and on though, as summarizing such a successful season would be no simple task.

To be exact, a total of 14 program records were set by the 1994 team, while 19 were set by individually by the Nittany Lions. Averaging a record 48.1 points per game, Penn State led the nation in total offense at 520.2 yards per game and scoring offense with a 47.8 ppg average that ranked as the fourth-highest in NCAA history at the time. Penn State's 1994 squad remains the highest scoring in the last 100 years of the Big Ten Conference (all games) and at 48.1 ppg in conference games, the highest scoring ever in Big Ten games only.

The Nittany Lions racked up eight convincing wins to start the season, opening the year with a dominant 56-3 win at Minnesota and a 38-14 showing against USC before taking down No. 5 Michigan on the road, 31-24, to move to No. 1 in the rankings, followed by a 63-14 trouncing of Ohio State on Homecoming. The Nittany Lions inexplicably fell to No. 2 following the smashing of the Buckeyes, after No. 3 Nebraska beat No. 2 Colorado and the Huskers moved into the top spot in the AP poll. 

The Nittany Lions' fifth undefeated season under Coach Joe Paterno was not without a couple of "close" calls. The week after the win over No. 21 Ohio State, Penn State comfortably led Indiana, 35-14, late in the game and the vast majority of the starters were on the sidelines as the Hoosiers scored twice, including a "Hail Mary" pass on the final play of the game to make the final score, 35-29. The day after the win at Indiana, the Coaches poll also dropped Penn State to No. 2 despite its 8-0 record and an offense that had scored at least 55 points in half its games thus far.

Penn State's ninth win came by way of one of the most memorable comebacks in program history, as the Nittany Lions rallied from behind by more than 20 points to clinch its first Big Ten Championship.

The deciding conference outing placed Penn State's prolific offense against an Illinois defense that entered the matchup ranked fourth nationally in total defense, allowing its opponents a mere 11.3 points per game. The Illini capitalized on two early Penn State turnovers to score two touchdowns and grab a 14-0 lead. Illinois added another touchdown to go up 21-0 at the end of the first quarter.

The Nittany Lions came storming back in the second quarter, moving the ball 99 yards in 11 plays, culminating in their first touchdown. Penn State followed with another touchdown to close the gap to 21-14, but Illinois answered to send the Nittany Lions into the locker room trailing, 28-14, at the half.

Penn State came out of the intermission with a touchdown on the first drive of the second half, but the Illini answered yet again, this time only with a field goal to pull ahead 31-21. Following a missed field goal attempt, the Nittany Lion defense held off Illinois as Penn State responded with a 17-yard pass from Collins to Engram on fourth-and-1 to give way to an eventual five-yard touchdown run to make it 31-28 Illini with less than eight minutes to play. 

From there, it's the number 96 that floods the minds of the passionate Nittany Lion fans. On the next drive, Collins led the Nittany Lions 96 yards down the drizzly field, going 7-for-7 for 60 yards before the Nittany Lions scored the game winner on a two-yard run by Brian Milne with 57 seconds on the clock. Kim Herring's end zone interception sealed the win and with one of the most memorable comebacks in program history and two more regular season conference wins over Northwestern and Michigan State, Penn State was headed to its first Rose Bowl in 72 years.

Penn State's 38-20 Rose Bowl victory against Pac-10 Champion Oregon mirrored the impressive nature of the historical regular season. With the Nittany Lions making their first appearance since 1923, the Ducks, who had won the Pac-10, were making their first appearance in the "The Granddaddy of Them All" since 1958. 

CarterRose Bowl TD Run.jpg

Penn State raced to an early lead with an 83-yard touchdown run by Carter on the Nittany Lions' first play from scrimmage. Although Penn State entered the locker room leading Oregon 14-7 at the half, a costly Nittany Lion turnover allowed the Ducks to convert a deficit into a 14-14 tie near the end of the third quarter. On the kickoff, it was Ambrose Fletcher who re-energized the Penn State offense, racing 72 yards on the kickoff return, which stands as the longest in program bowl history. Carter followed with a 17-yard run to put Penn State back on top, 21-14. 

The Nittany Lions capitalized on an Oregon interception, as Carter scored from three yards out for his third touchdown of the game. Penn State never looked back, cruising to the win with Carter finishing with 156 yards on 21 carries with three touchdowns to earn Co-Most Valuable Player honors with Oregon quarterback Danny O'Neil. Carter's 83-yard run also marked the longest in a Penn State bowl game and the third longest in Rose Bowl history at the time. Having already scored on 80-yard runs two other times earlier in the season, Carter still remains the only Nittany Lion in program history to produce three 80-yard touchdown runs in a single season. Carter was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 2014.

In the 1995 NFL Draft, Carter, Brady and Collins were among the first nine selections, at the time standing as just the third time a single school has had three top 10 choices since the draft began in 1970. Carter was the first overall selection by the Cincinnati Bengals, Collins was the No. 5 pick (Carolina) and Brady was No. 9 (New York Jets). 

The 1994 season was before the advent of the Bowl Championship Series, so the nation's No. 1 (Nebraska) and No. 2 (Penn State) teams did not have an opportunity to meet in the post-season to decide the national champion. Although the Nittany Lions finished No. 2 in the AP and Coaches' polls following the 1995 Rose Bowl, they were No. 1 in the final New York Times computer rankings and Sagarin rankings.

The incredible, undefeated 1994 season is one that is cemented in the history and legacy of Penn State Football forever.

Josh McPhearson: The Ultimate Teammate

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By Arielle Sargent, 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State wide receiver Josh McPhearson might not be one to light up the stat sheet Saturday', but what those who don't know him might miss, is that he is the type of teammate who can certainly light up a locker room.

Fresh off of Penn State's first Big Ten Championship since 2008, in the culmination of a resilient season defined by hard work and perseverance, McPhearson could be found all smiles on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium with a colorful bunch of confetti draped around his neck.

"I watched the Big Ten Championship game last year and I watched the confetti come down on the field and I thought man, I want to do that, I hope the confetti comes down this time," McPhearson said. "So we were on the stand, holding up the ball and I heard a pop, pop. I started looking around and the confetti fell to the ground, so I went in and did a few snow angels in it and I put it around my neck." 

Confetti and all, McPhearson was living in the moment, as he recalled. A moment he seemingly couldn't quite imagine growing up and one he'll never forget. 

Growing up in Columbia, Maryland, Josh McPhearson is one of eight children. With six brothers and one sister, life on team McPhearson is anything but ordinary.

"I'm like the middle child," McPhearson said. "I have four older brothers, two younger brothers and one younger sister."


Along with a half dozen siblings, the McPhearson's are truly a shining example of an extraordinary athletic family. On a normal day, when asked about his family, it takes Josh nearly three full minutes to list off each of his siblings, pausing for just a moment in between to cover their athletic success.

Josh's oldest brother Gerrick Jr. played football at Maryland and was selected by the New York Giants in the seventh round of the 2006 NFL Draft. His second oldest brother Derrick, played football at Illinois and his third oldest brother Emmanuel, played football at New Mexico.

Right above Josh in age is Jeremiah, who played football at Indiana (Pa). Younger brother Matthew, was drafted in the fourth round of the Major League Baseball Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of high school in 2013. Four years younger, is Zechariah, a freshman on the Nittany Lion football team with Josh. Then there's his youngest sister Kimberly, who has also committed to play soccer at Bowling Green.

McPhearson's father, Gerrick Sr. also played football at Boston College before playing in the NFL with the New England Patriots. That's not where McPhearson says all the athletic traits hail from though.

 "It all started with my mom, she's really the athlete of the family," McPhearson said.  "It's more her genes than my dad's."

In a household of nearly 10, there was always some sort of competition to be had, with plenty of epic holiday football games in the back yard.

"I remember Christmas some years, we would get dressed up as different NFL teams and play with my younger brothers in the back yard when it was snowing," McPhearson said. "It was really competitive. We had a basketball hoop outside of the house too, so really just anything sports related. It was really competitive for us and it was really awesome." 

Always the energetic one in the family, McPhearson gives credits his older brothers for helping to bring him out of his shell, pushing and shaping him into the person and teammate that he is today.

"I saw the way they worked, and their work ethic was something that inspired me," McPhearson said. "I learned how to work and push myself through them. A lot of what I do now is because they are a motivation in my life."

The path to Penn State was anything but easy for McPhearson, who had grown up familiar with head coach James Franklin, dating back to the younger Gerrick's days as a football student-athlete at Maryland.

"There were practices at Maryland in the spring and during camp, and my family would actually go to the practices and go on the field," McPhearson said. "I was probably six or seven and I would run around the field, and I used to see coach Franklin doing his laps. He used to do laps around the field." 

It would be several years before the McPhearson family would once again reunite with some familiar faces from the Maryland staff though. 

McPhearson's journey began at Fork Union Military Academy, a prep school in Union, Virginia, where he played alongside the likes of future teammates Christian Hackenberg and Trevor Williams. Taking a different path, he attended two junior colleges, playing football for one season at Globe Institute of Technology in New York, New York before spending another season at Nassau Community College in Garden City, New York on Long Island.

"From Globe I knew that coach Franklin was at Penn State, so I sent him my highlights and things and it actually worked out in my favor," McPhearson said. 

Upon meeting with coach Franklin during his visit to Happy Valley, it was a feeling of relief that encompassed McPhearson, knowing he hadn't seen the Nittany Lion head coach in a while and that his dream to play at Penn State might soon become a reality.

For McPhearson, it was the pride and tradition of the Penn State program that fueled his daily dream to continue working toward his goal to one day put on the Blue and White. 

"When I look at Penn State I just see a lot of tradition and I see a lot of history and I saw that this program was building and I wanted to be a part of something that was building," McPhearson said.

His hard work paid off, as McPhearson joined the team in the spring of 2015.

From the time he arrived to the time the confetti fell in Indianapolis, it's been widely expressed and noted among teammates and coaches, that team chemistry is at an all-time high.

Following an early season loss to Pittsburgh, it was tight end Mike Gesicki who first spoke to the heart of the team, even in defeat.

"We have more heart in my three years, more than we've ever had," Gesicki said. "We're not going to give up, we're not going to quit."

Months later, with a Big Ten championship secured and Rose Bowl Game a mere few weeks away, McPhearson also noted that the chemistry on the team is right where it needs to be.

"The chemistry on the team has really grown a lot," McPhearson said. "From when I got here in 2015 to this season and last season, the chemistry is two different things. It's clicking now and I knew it was going to come at some point. The guys are really bonding with each other and every guy is playing their role the right way."

Part of being on a team means that everyone has a role and for McPhearson, he has found that role, one that he says, all comes down to lifting his teammates up - creating chemistry, when it's needed the most.

"A lot of times you can't control your situation, but you can control how you look at it and what you do to pick others up"
Josh McPhearson

Of the four core values that Franklin instills in his Nittany Lions, having a positive attitude is the one McPhearson says he holds closest and embraces the most.

"A lot of times you can't control your situation, but you can control how you look at it and what you do to pick others up," McPhearson said. "I think my role to bring the team's chemistry up is to pick others up."

Just one of those Nittany Lions he has picked up along the way, comes among McPhearson's close knit group at the wide receiver unit in sophomore Irvin Charles. 

"He had a pretty big year this year," McPhearson said. "He had a play that really transitioned our season against Minnesota. He's one of those guys who I really try to spend a lot of time with to try to push him to be the best because he has so much potential."

Outside of Charles, it's not easy for McPhearson to list off his best friends, because as he'll tell you with a smile, he's friends with the whole team.  

One best friend he will list though, is his brother Zech, a true freshman cornerback for the Nittany Lions this year. 

"When Zech was going through the recruiting process I just told him to do what you want to do," McPhearson said. "I didn't really want to put any pressure on him to come here but I was also kind of nudging him to come here because I've never really played with him before."

Four years older than his younger brother, Josh never got a chance to play football with Zech prior to Penn State. 


"Growing up, we used to play basketball and my dad was the coach and my brothers were on the team and he was always the water boy," McPhearson recalled. "Having an opportunity to play with him is really nice. He is a really funny kid and has a lot of potential."

Whether its Charles or Zech, McPhearson can always be found lifting up his entire team in the locker room though, a place where motivation not only lives, but thrives.

"Going into the second half, guys talk in the locker room and I always try to go around and pick guys head's up and let them know that we have things to do and it's really good for guys to take that in and know that your words really mean something to them, it means a lot," McPhearson said.

For McPhearson, his ability to pick others up around him all goes back to where it first began, with his parents, Kim and Gerrick.

"When I was going through this process to get to Penn State, it was really long and gritty and it was such a grind," McPhearson said. "My mom and dad were really there for me for all the things that I went through, and they really encouraged me to keep going and keep pushing."

Inspired by his family, McPhearson's weaved hard work in with his energetic personality, while remaining focused on seeing every situation in the most positive light possible.

All part of what makes him such a great teammate.

"You never really know what somebody is going through in their life," McPhearson said. "Playing football is one aspect of it, but another aspect of it is to really pick someone up and encourage them when you're playing the game."

McPhearson and the rest of the Nittany Lions will hit the road come next Monday, heading to Pasadena, California for the 103rd Rose Bowl Game. 

"In 1,000 years I could never imagine that I would be at Penn State playing in the Rose Bowl and winning a Big Ten Championship," McPhearson said. 

A chance for another opportunity forged by the hard work of McPhearson and his teammates.

"This team worked so hard and I worked so hard myself," McPhearson said. "The feeling of being in the Rose Bowl and winning a championship, I can't even put it into words. There are a lot of guys on the team really embracing their roles and I'm just happy to be one of them."

Rose Bowl Rewind: Penn State vs. USC - 1923

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By Arielle Sargent,

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With Penn State's fourth Rose Bowl Game appearance just two weeks away, it's fitting to take a look back at the three previous times in program history the Nittany Lions have traveled to Pasadena, California for the "Granddaddy of Them All." 

Across the next several days, travel back more than 90 years to Penn State's first ever bowl game, revisit the undefeated 1994 season and another Big Ten Championship year in 2008, all leading up to the Nittany Lions' fourth Rose Bowl appearance to come on January 2, 2017. 

To get started, we'll start from the beginning.

The first of 46 completed bowl games in Penn State program history dates all the way back to 1923, where the Nittany Lions made their Rose Bowl debut against USC on New Year's Day in what would also be the first ever game at the current Rose Bowl Stadium in the Arroyo Seco area of Pasadena.   

The 1922 Penn State football season featured more than just a few firsts, including the debut of the Nittany Lion. Making its first appearance, the Penn State mascot donned an African Lion uniform re-purposed from a Penn State player's production of George Bernard Shaw's "Androcles and The Lion" in the first meeting in program history against Syracuse at New York City's Polo Grounds on October 28, 1922.

Under the direction of fifth-year head coach Hugo Bezdek, the Nittany Lions posted a 5-0 record before the outing against the Orange, entering the matchup averaging 33 points per game before playing to a 0-0 tie against Syracuse. 

Next up, Penn State was slated to play Navy in a highly-anticipated outing in Washington, D.C. Having not surrendered a loss in 30 consecutive games, Penn State traveled to American League Park to square off against Navy on November 2, 1922. Entering the matchup with a depleted roster due to injuries, the Nittany Lions played in front of a crowd of 35,000 featuring congressmen and dignitaries as well Pittsburgh head coach Pop Warner and Penn's John Heisman.

Navy jumped out to a 7-0 lead by halftime before a fake punt and fumble recovery sent the Midshipmen ahead 14-0, with the Nittany Lions ultimately falling short to give Penn State its first loss in 30 games.

Penn State responded with a 10-0 win against Carnegie Tech the following week, but lost back-to-back games at Penn and at Pittsburgh in the yearly Thanksgiving week game to close the regular season.

At 6-3-1, Penn State was set to match up against a University of Southern California squad that had won all but one game on the year, including each of its last four straight for a 9-1-0 record. USC also was making its first overall bowl and Rose Bowl Game appearance against Penn State after Pacific Coast Conference champion California declined the invitation to play in Pasadena. The Trojans' only loss in 1922 had come to the Golden Bears. 

1923 Rose Bowl program.jpg

Although the trip to the Rose Bowl Game was the first bowl in program history for the Nittany Lions, Bezdek had previously guided Oregon to a victory over Penn in the 1917 Rose Bowl as the Ducks' head coach.

Penn State boarded a train on December 19, making stops in Chicago and the Grand Canyon before arriving in Pasadena on Christmas Eve.

On the day of the game, the Nittany Lions made an appearance at the Tournament of Roses Parade before boarding taxis to head to the game, without a police escort. Los Angeles post-parade traffic created a crisis for the team as the cabs carrying the 29-person travel party navigated through the lawns of local residents before arriving to find that kickoff had been pushed back 10 minutes.

After a bit of contentious discussion between Bezdek and USC head coach Elmer "Gloomy Gus" Henderson, the game was delayed an hour and the game would end under just the light of the moon in the night sky.

Penn State struck first, when quarterback and kicker Myron "Mike" Palm nailed a 20-yard field goal to give the Nittany Lions a 3-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. USC answered with a pair of one-yard touchdown runs in the second and third quarter, respectively to pull ahead 14-3. Neither team would score again as Penn State's defense held off the Trojans in the final frame, but the Nittany Lions couldn't get on the scoreboard again, held to just five first downs in front of the crowd of 43,000.

As the final whistle blew late into the evening, sportswriters had to strike matches to provide enough light to finish filing their stories. Penn State finished the 1922 season at 6-4-1, while also donating its $21,349.64 in Rose Bowl Game profit to the $2 million Emergency Building Fund, directed to the construction of Irvin Hall, which was formerly Varsity Hall. 

Since their first meeting in the 1923 Rose Bowl, Penn State and USC have met in two more post-season contests, with the Nittany Lions winning in the 1982 Fiesta Bowl and the Trojans winning in the 2009 Rose Bowl. 

Penn State and USC have emerged as two of the nation's most successful programs in bowl success, with the Trojans ranking No. 1 (66.0, 33-17) and the Nittany Lions No. 3 (63.0, 28-16-2) in bowl winning percentage among teams with at least 20 post-season appearances.

Information from The Penn State Football Encyclopedia was used in this story.

Recapping Penn State Rose Bowl Media Day

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James Franklin Press Conference Video Photo Gallery
Transcripts: James Franklin Players (Offense - Defense)

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Just a few short weeks from hitting the road to head to Pasadena, California for "The Granddaddy of the Them All," Penn State football is set to resume its Rose Bowl preparations.

After devoting most of the week to final exams, the Nittany Lions will get back on the practice field Friday afternoon looking toward Penn State's 47th bowl game appearance in program history. The Big Ten champion Nittany Lions will meet USC in the 103rd Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual January 2, 2017.

Penn State head coach James Franklin and several Nittany Lions took time to meet with members of the media at Beaver Stadium to preview the upcoming matchup and the trip to Pasadena. 

Penn State in the Rose Bowl
The Nittany Lions are set to make their fourth appearance in the Rose Bowl Game and first since 2009. Penn State's history in the event dates all the way back to the first bowl game in program history when the Nittany Lions and the Trojans met in the 1923 Rose Bowl. Penn State and USC will also meet in the historic event for the third time in program history.

Nittany Lions Set to Graduate
As Franklin highlights as one of the most central pieces of his job as head coach at Penn State, a total of 10 of his Nittany Lions will see their dedication to academics culminate in a special day. All 10 are set for commencement ceremonies this weekend, with the following Nittany Lions approved to graduate: Brandon Bell, Derek Dowrey, Gregg Garrity, Malik Golden, Chris Gulla, DaeSean Hamilton, Danny Pasquariello, Brandon Smith, Jordan Smith and Von Walker.

Bowl Practice Slate
Penn State kicked off its bowl game practice slate with two days of practice December 9-10th. After taking some time off to shift the focus toward final exams, the Nittany Lions will resume practices from December 16-17th before breaking for the holiday. The rest of remaining practices will take place at the StubHub Center, located in Carson, California just outside of Los Angeles.

"We have one approach where our first couple practices are program development practices," Franklin said. "They're not really specific towards USC. We will get some USC work in with film and things like that, but it's going to be more program development, getting the young guys some work, good-on-good type of stuff. And then we'll start to shift to USC where we'll do a basically bonus Tuesday practice, a bonus Wednesday practice, and then go out there and do our full, full week of preparation."

A Sense of Urgency
Franklin noted that one area of emphasis during bowl practices will be getting out to a quicker start, noting that the matchup between the two offenses between the Nittany Lions and the Trojans means Penn State will need to approach each possession as if it's crucial, while also working toward increasing conversions on third down too.

"Our offense allows us to score points, but their offense is the type offense that can score points at any moment," Franklin said. "We're going to have to play great for four quarters. Each possession is like gold, each series is like gold, each rep is like gold, and we've got to approach it that way in practice and in the games."

Looking Toward the Trojans
Like the Nittany Lions, Franklin noted that among talent, the Trojans will enter the matchup playing with a tremendous amount of confidence.

Highlighting a few key players the staff has identified in early game planning, Franklin pointed out that USC has strength in all three phases of the game, with a specific turning point guiding the Trojans to a white hot ending to the regular season. 

"The thing that's changed them the most is the change at the quarterback position with Sam Darnold, 6-4, 225-pound kid who's completing 70 percent of his passes, 26 touchdowns, eight interceptions," Franklin said. 

Since Darnold took over for the Trojans, he led USC to wins in each of the last eight consecutive games of the season. 

"They are very talented, but like I mentioned before, I think the biggest difference for them was the change at the quarterback position," Franklin said. "It's kind of changed their whole season. They've been playing with a lot of confidence since then."

Taking Time Off
Franklin was quick to note that the span of nearly a month in between the Big Ten Championship and the Rose Bowl Game is certainly no reason to be concerned in terms of keeping the momentum rolling.

It's a purely positive scenario for Franklin, who noted that injuries throughout the season just means that the time off will provide some much needed time to reenergize and recharge both minds and bodies. 

"I think our guys are looking forward to it," Franklin said. I look at it as a positive. Again, it's time off as being able to focus just on football. We've got a really good plan where we're not going to be out at practice too long. We want to keep them fresh, start to kind of introduce USC slowly, and then go full bore ahead."

Video Interviews
Catch up with a few Nittany Lions in some one-on-one interviews from Rose Bowl Media Day.

Chris Godwin

Jason Cabinda

Saquon Barkley

Evan Schwan

Mike Gesicki

Rose Bowl Game Trophy Tours Penn State

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Representatives from the Tournament of Roses made their way to Happy Valley Monday, bringing along the Leishman Trophy for the upcoming Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual.

Escorted by representatives, the trophy toured its way through campus and the State College community making several stops at a few popular locations along the way.

Monday's Leishman Trophy Tour kicked off bright and early with a stop at a Forever Broadcasting to make some rounds on the radio circuit. 

The first official public stop included a trip to Blaise Alexander Hyundai Mazda, where the trophy was greeted by fans for pictures. Next up was a midmorning stop at Penn State's All-Sports Museum before the trophy spent most of the afternoon at the Penn State Bookstore in the HUB-Robeson Center.

Students were gathered throughout the afternoon, snapping photos and posing with the trophy. 

In between appearances, the Leishman Trophy made a quick stop at the Bryce Jordan Center, where Intercollegiate Athletics employees all had an opportunity to grab a few photos before the end of the day.

The final stop on the tour included a trip to Lettermans for an evening of free food and Rose Bowl Game giveaways. During the last stop of the day, the Tournament of Roses representatives gave away four sets of Rose Bowl Game tickets and Rose Bowl gear to a few lucky fans. 

Penn State student Kimberlyn Turner was the first lucky winner at the Lettermans ticket giveaway. 

"This is amazing," Turner said just moments after stepping forward to collect the pair of Rose Bowl Game tickets. "My mom and I kept putting all of our names in all of the Family Clothesline drawings and all those things so she's going to freak out when she sees these. My parents both went to Penn State and that's kind of where my love of Penn State has grown from." 

Penn State captured its first Big Ten Championship since 2008 and fourth overall with a thrilling 38-31 win against Wisconsin to close out the regular season at 11-2 and 8-1 in conference play. The Nittany Lions and USC will meet in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual Monday, January 2 at 5 p.m. ET in Pasadena, California. 

Perseverance Pays Off in Big Ten Championship Win

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INDIANAPOLIS - On Friday, it was Penn State head coach James Franklin who told a room full of media members at the Big Ten Championship game that the one word to describe the Nittany Lion 2016 season was persevere.

Just a little more than 24 hours later, the Nittany Lions put on yet another resilient showing, proving that perseverance is truly the foundation for Penn State's Big Ten Championship season.

The path to hoisting the Big Ten Championship game trophy into the air Saturday evening wasn't anything short of extraordinary, but that's nothing the Nittany Lions aren't already used to.

Against Minnesota, it was Irvin Charles' 80-yard touchdown that sparked a double-digit comeback. Against Ohio State, it was the Marcus Allen blocked field goal that Grant Haley returned 60 yards for the touchdown to secure another comeback from a double figure deficit. We'll arrive at Allen and Haley later.

Near the end of the first half Saturday, the Nittany Lions were faced with yet another challenging deficit, trailing 28-7.

Penn State refused to back down in the first half though, as quarterback Trace McSorley relied on his arsenal of talented wide receivers, tossing four plays of at least 12 yards, culminating in a 40-yard touchdown pass to Saeed Blacknall to send the Nittany Lions into the locker room down 28-14.

A renewed Nittany Lion team emerged from the locker room though, determined to engineer another comeback this season.

In the first Wisconsin drive of the second half, Penn State's defense paved the way, forcing the Badgers to settle for a 48-yard field goal attempt, which they missed.

Now cue the momentum shift, as McSorley found Blacknall for a Big Ten Championship game record-70-yard touchdown on the first play of the Penn State scoring drive, pulling the Nittany Lions within seven after the Tyler Davis PAT.

Penn State continued to chop up field with chunk play after chunk play in the third quarter, as Barkley dashed for a 16-yard rush before McSorley found Chris Godwin for a pair of 13-plus yard pass plays to set up the 1-yard Saquon Barkley touchdown that tied the score, 28-28.

Limiting the Badgers to just a field goal in the third quarter, the Nittany Lions had found their stride with the defense making stops and the offensive line giving McSorley the extra crucial moments to key in on his talent receivers downfield.

Before long, it was veteran DaeSean Hamilton, who backed up his clutch first half third down conversion grabs with back-to-back catches of at least 25 yards, to put Penn State in perfect position for McSorley to find Barkley for the 18-yard touchdown catch to send the Nittany Lions ahead, 35-31 in the fourth quarter. Penn State's explosive offense was clicking.

With plenty of time left in the frame, the Penn State defense took over, as linebacker Koa Farmer sacked Wisconsin quarterback Bart Houston for a loss of four before defensive tackle Kevin Givens came through with the stop on third-and-16 forcing the Badgers to punt.

Although the Nittany Lions managed to convert on a 24-yard Davis field goal, the Wisconsin offense was surging, staring down a fourth-and-1 opportunity at the Penn State 24-yard line with just over a minute to play.

Out of Wisconsin timeout, it was Haley once again, who came up with the game-winning play to secure another one of Penn State's signature comeback victories this season.

From the first Penn State blocked field goal returned for a touchdown in what is believed to be program history, to a perfectly timed fourth-and-1 stop, Haley and Allen helped halt Badger running back Corey Clement to end the Wisconsin scoring threat. 

When asked about the connection between he and Allen on two of perhaps the most pivotal plays of the season, Haley prefers to bring it back to the team as a whole.

"I don't think it's just us two," Haley said. "I think it's the whole 11 guys out there on the field, even coaches in the box and the scout team. It's just something that our coaches prepare for us. And when the time - when it's time to step up, I feel like any person on our defense or offense is going to step up, and it just happens to be the situation that Marcus and I have been in two great situations."

Guided by a pair of 100-yard receivers in Blacknall and Hamilton, McSorley finished with career-high and Big Ten Championship game record 384 passing yards, throwing four touchdown passes for the second consecutive game.

In total, just three of McSorley's top three targets (Hamilton, Blacknall and Gesicki) combined for 331 of Penn State's 435 yards of total offense. 

"The wideouts made unbelievable plays for him and the tight ends made unbelievable plays for him," Franklin said postgame. "We said, look, we felt really confident about our wide receiver to DB matchups and tight end to DB matchups, but we just needed to strain, strain a little bit longer in protection and give us some time, and we'd have a chance to do some good things."

Good things turned into great things Saturday evening as the Nittany Lions emerged with their fourth overall Big Ten Championship title and first Big Ten Championship title game victory since it began in 2011.

"It's been our script all season long," Franklin said. "We've done it all different ways. We've done it with comebacks at the end of the game, two-minute drives. We've done it where we've blown people out. We've done it where we had to come back in the second half. We've done it with field goal plays, blocked field goal plays. We've done it a lot of different ways. But that's the sign of a good football team when you find different ways to be successful." 

Now, it's on to the bowl game.

Penn State is Rose Bowl Bound - (Transcript)
Sunday afternoon, the Nittany Lions received their official invitation to the 103rd annual Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual to take on USC Monday, January 2 at 5 p.m. ET in Pasadena, California.

Making their first appearance in the "Granddaddy of Them All" since a 38-24 loss to the Trojans in 2009, the Nittany Lions are set for their 47th all-time bowl outing. 

Franklin joined a pair of press conferences Sunday evening to talk about the selection. Here are a few takeaways.

- Franklin noted that like the Nittany Lions, the Trojans are one of the hottest teams in college football, stressing that the matchup presents one of the scarier programs playing with a high level of confidence leading up to the selection. 

"Obviously feel like USC is a very, very talented team, and once the quarterback started clicking for them, then distributing the ball, the whole team just kind of -- they developed around him," Franklin said. "So it's been fun to watch. It's exciting to watch. They're a dangerous team."

- Trojan head coach Clay Helton watched last night's Big Ten Championship game and it's not hard to guess who impressed him.

"I've just had the opportunity to watch Penn State really on TV and culminating in last night's exceptional win, and the one thing that jumps out at you right off the bat is offensively how talented they are with Barkley and McSorley and the points they're putting up," Helton said. 

- It's business as usual for the Nittany Lions leading up to the bowl game. Penn State coaches will hit the road recruiting giving the team some time to recharge before getting into practice. There's no stress around planning or logistical preparations though, as Franklin noted that plans have already been in place since preseason.

"We do all the schedules and all the calendars for all the bowls in preseason, in the summer," Franklin said. "We already have those all set and ready to go so we have a pretty good understanding of what's going on. We'll go back and make some slight adjustments to it but all those things are pretty much set ahead of time."

VIDEO: Postgame James Franklin & Players - Wisconsin

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INDIANAPOLIS - Penn State Football engineered a thrilling 21-point comeback Saturday evening to capture the Big Ten Championship with a 38-31 win against Wisconsin at Lucas Oil Stadium. 

Catch up with head coach James Franklin as well as Nittany Lions Trace McSorley, Saquon Barkley, Malik Golden, Jason Cabinda, DaeSean Hamilton, Saeed Blacknall and Mike Gesicki following the win. 

Player Interviews

James Franklin

2016 Gameday Live - No. 7 Penn State vs. No. 6 Wisconsin

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For the first time in program history, Penn State is headed to the Big Ten Championship game, as the seventh-ranked Nittany Lions are set to meet sixth-ranked Wisconsin in Saturday's title game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.   

Follow along with our live blog for all your in-game updates in one place as well as exclusive content. 

Live Blog No. 7 Penn State vs. No. 6 Wisconsin (Big Ten Championship)

Balanced Lions Silence Blackbirds

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By Jack Milewski, Student Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State Nittany Lions continued their dominance in the NCAA first round Friday night with a convincing straight set victory against LIU Brooklyn to advance the Nittany Lions to yet another second-round matchup.

Penn State used a balanced attack to overwhelm the Blackbirds, who were the NEC champions after a 16-14 season. Penn State limited LIU Brooklyn to eight points in the first set and six in the third set on their way to one of the quickest matches they have played all season long. It was a game Penn State was expected to win and they did just that, wasting little time.

"First off I want to congratulate Long Island on a great season," Nittany Lion head coach Russ Rose said. "I thought we played well tonight in a situation where the other team just couldn't seem to get themselves going."

Penn State certainly got going early and often as they started the match on a 16-3 run behind the hot serving of Abby Detering. She poured in 28 assists to go along with three service aces to lead the team. Detering also had 10 digs to give her a double double on the match.

On the offensive side, Penn State was efficient, hitting at a .403 clip, one of their highest totals since their out of conference slate ended. Simone Lee led the charge with 12 kills, but the main key for Penn State was a lack of attack errors. 

"I thought we did a solid job in the game of not committing errors and keeping the ball in play," Rose said. "I thought it was nice to get some of our other players in the match as well and I thought Clare Powers had a good match for us off the bench."

As always has seemed to be the case this year, Kendall White was once again a star in the back row for Penn State. White, who gained All-Big Ten freshman honors just this past week, had 18 digs and was the recipient of high praise from her coaching staff after the game.

"I thought she was really good tonight," Rose said. "She was always in the right place at the right time and just overall did a real nice job."

The Nittany Lions will not have much time off as they have to quickly recover and take on the Pittsburgh Panthers at 6:30 in Rec Hall. The Panthers are coming off an impressive victory over the Dayton Flyers, who came into this NCAA tournament with college volleyball's best winning percentage at 30-1 on the year. The Panthers dominated in sets three and four to take the match. Penn State talked about their matchup tomorrow with high expectations of Pitt.

"That first match was played at a very high level today," Rose said. "We will need to be better than we were today because Pittsburgh is a very good team and they have beat some good teams this year as well."

"We are prepared for them and we've scrimmaged them the last couple of springs so we should be ready to go tomorrow," added Lee.

Penn State will be in front of their home crowd for the final time this season tomorrow when they take on the Panthers. 


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