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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With Big Ten Championship game preparations well underway, following the close of the conference regular season, Penn State Football saw 10 defensive or special teams Nittany Lions earn a spot on either one of three All-Big Ten teams or pick up honorable mention distinction.
The league also honored Penn State head coach James Franklin as the Dave McClain Big Ten Coach of the Year. For more on Franklin's award click here.
Take a quick glance at some of the Nittany Lion defensive and special teams All-Big Ten honorees.
Tyler Davis - First Team All-Big Ten
(Coaches), Second Team All-Big Ten (Media)
Following a career-high performance on the road at Rutgers, Franklin noted that if there was one person he was going to name MVP, it was Davis. Quietly kicking his way through the Nittany Lion record books this season, Davis has established himself as both a consistent and clutch performer when called upon. When asked about his secret to success, Davis humbly replies with hard work and a commitment to preparation.
"It's a testament to how hard we've been working," Davis said. "Working with two different holders, our snapper, our line has been ever-changing, so I think it's really a team award for how good our field goal unit has been."
- Davis is ranked eighth on the Penn State single season scoring charts after a nine-point outing in the season finale against Michigan State, extending his career total to 113 points.
- Having never even played a snap of football in high school, just one of the former soccer star's clutch performances came against Minnesota, where Davis forced overtime kicking a 40-yard field goal with two seconds remaining in regulation. In total, he kicked three field goals against the Badgers to match a then-career-high mark and move his consecutive field goal streak to 17 straight, breaking a school record for the most consecutive field goals made.
- Davis is a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award, which is presented to the top kicker in the nation annually.
- At Rutgers, he posted a career-high four field goals, tying a season-long mark with a 40-yard field goal in the shutout victory in some of the most challenging weather conditions of the season.
- In the rankings, Davis leads the Big Ten in field goal percentage (.913) and field goals per game (1.8) and ranks 11th and eight in the FBS in the two categories, respectively.
- He's currently 29-for-31 in career field goal attempts with his only two misses coming on blocks.
- Davis is a perfect 55-for-55 in extra point attempts, having secured starting place kicking duties late last season.
Garrett Sickels - Second Team All-Big
Ten (Coaches), Third Team All-Big Ten (Media)
A pivotal piece of the Penn State defensive line, defensive end Garrett Sickels has show both quickness and strength in his pursuit, leading the team with 12.5 tackles for loss and tying for a team-high mark with six sacks on the year. For Sickels, he notes the second half of this year's comeback upset victory against second-ranked Ohio State as a bit of a turning point, as he came off the bench to tally career-high marks in tackles (9), tackles for loss (3.5) and sacks (2.5).
- Following the career-high showing against the Buckeyes, Sickels was tabbed to the Pro Football Focus Big Ten Team of the Week.
- He earned the same honor following the win at Indiana, where he posted 2.0 tackles for loss and a sack.
- Within Penn State's eight-game winning streak, Sickels has contributed at least a half of a tackle for loss in each of the last eight games, including a combined 4.5 sacks during the stretch.
Evan Schwan - Third Team All-Big Ten
(Coaches and Media)
Another key piece of the Nittany Lion defensive line is senior Evan Schwan, who has not only earned his way into the starting lineup, but also developed into a veteran leader along the way. One of 18 first time starters this season, Schwan entered the starting lineup against Kent State and has nearly never looked back. Ranked third on the team with 7.5 tackles for loss on the year, Schwan is also tied with Sickels with a team-high six sacks.
- In the last eight games, Schwan has contributed at least a half of a sack in all but one game. He's also totaled three sacks across the last four games.
- At Rutgers, Schwan sacked quarterback Gio Rescigno in the fourth quarter, forcing his first career fumble.
- Schwan matched a career-high mark originally set against Kent State with four tackles in the win against Maryland, helping limit the then-unbeaten Terps to 14 points.
Jason Cabinda - Third Team All-Big
Ten (Coaches) Honorable Mention (Media)
After retuning from an injury that sidelined him for five games, Cabinda picked right up where he left off in his first game back on the field, helping the team to a comeback victory against second-ranked Ohio State. Returning as a veteran leader of the linebacker unit, Cabinda logged 13 tackles in the win against the Buckeyes, including a career-high 2.0 tackles for loss.
- Following the standout performance against the Buckeyes, Cabinda was awarded a Helmet Sticker by College Football Final.
- Since returning against Ohio State, Cabinda is averaging 8.3 tackles per game across the last six games, with no fewer than eight in all but one outing in the stretch.
- Dating back to 2015, Cabinda has logged eight or more stops nine of his last 11 games he has played in the Blue and White.
Marcus Allen - Third Team All-Big
Ten (Coaches) Honorable Mention (Media)
Nittany Lion safety Marcus Allen has made tremendous contributions to the Penn State secondary as a key impact player throughout the season. Some of those notable performances include a 22-tackle performance in the overtime win against Minnesota and of course, the unforgettable Ohio State field goal attempt he blocked just in time for Grant Haley to return it 60-yards for the game-winning touchdown.
- With injuries hindering the linebacker unit, Allen stepped up for the 22-tackle performance against the Golden Gophers, registering the most tackles by a Penn State player since Paul Posluszny had 22 against Northwestern in 2005, and the most by a Big Ten Player since 2011.
- Allen also earned Co-Defensive Player of the Week honors following the career-high performance against Minnesota as well as Rose Bowl Game Player of the Week honors.
- Allen's blocked field goal against Ohio State set up what is believed to be the only time in program history a blocked field goal has been returned for a touchdown. His blocked field goal was the first since Kyle Baublitz blocked a field goal try in the quadruple overtime win against Michigan in 2013. He also posted six tackles against the Buckeyes, on the way to Co-Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week honors, which he shared with Haley.
All-Big Ten Honorable Mention
- Linebacker Brandon Bell
- Cornerback John Reid
- Punter Blake Gillikin
- Defensive tackle Parker Cothren
Big Ten Sportsmanship Honoree
- Long snapper Tyler Yazujian
Wednesday evening, Franklin earned the Big Ten Conference Dave McClain Coach of the Year honor, voted on by media members from around the league. Earning his first postseason conference award of his career at Penn State, the honor comes as a symbol dedication to the process and gratitude for the staff and student-athletes who have benefited from his leadership.
In the moments following a dominant 45-12 win against Michigan State to clinch the Big Ten East Division title and secure Penn State's first 10-win regular season since 2009, Franklin was quick to thank those around him.
"I want to thank the best coaching staff in the country," Franklin said. "We spend a lot of time together, care about one another, support one another, we're very creative and have a lot of fun. I want to thank the players - the players have been great."
While the path to Franklin's first Big Ten Coach of the Year honor has been anything but ordinary, if one thing has been the same from year one to year three, it has been a steadfast commitment to process and consistency in the same approach based on a foundation of four core values, positive attitude, work ethic, competition in everything and the willingness to sacrifice.
The first two years, steep scholarship reductions presented a unique challenge, but Penn State battled to a pair of bowl appearances following back-to-back 7-6 seasons.
Following the 2015 season, Franklin adjusted staffing positions, most notably promoting Brent Pry to defensive coordinator, welcoming offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, who was the head coach at Fordham and offensive line coach Matt Limegrover, who served as an assistant at Minnesota.
A 2-2 to start the 2016 season, although back at full scholarship allotment, the Nittany Lions were facing a linebacker unit riddled with injuries, unlike anything Franklin had ever seen with the Big Ten slate already underway.
Despite the circumstances, Franklin calmly addressed a room full of media members on a Tuesday afternoon in early October, going back to the process.
"There's a process from the time we arrived to where we're going," Franklin said. "I think I see strides in people that come to practice every single day, see strides in the people that are around our program, in every aspect, the professors that come as the guest coach programs with us, the administration that's around us, at practice, in meetings, academically, athletically, socially, spiritually, the whole package, there's progress being made."
Urging the room to pause for a deep breath, Franklin offered one final statement before moving on.
"We're going to continue loving these kids," Franklin said. "We're going to continue supporting these kids. We're going to continue developing these kids, and I believe in my 22 years of experience that we're heading in the right direction and good things are going to happen if people let the process play out."
Just four days later, Penn State engineered a triumphant comeback from, defeating Minnesota 29-26 in overtime to kick off a string of eight consecutive victories, culminating in the Big Ten East Division title, securing Penn State's first conference crown since 2009.
Along the way, Penn State shocked the nation, rallying from a 14-point deficit to upset second-ranked Ohio State in front of an electric white out crowd of more than 107,000 fans.
On Saturday, as Franklin addressed the media postgame following a dominant 45-12 win against Michigan State, he again, returned to the process.
"I think if you look at our track record, that's really who we've been," Franklin said. "We've gotten better as the season has gone on and stuck to our process. I know early on we had some other challenges and I know people like to make light of that, but this is really who we've been. We've stuck to the plan and supported one another every step of the way to keep getting better."
Whether its injuries, youth, or even a situation as unthinkable as crippling sanctions, Franklin and his staff, long standing or new, have not waivered in the face of adversity, but rather reverted to the plan as the roadmap to what's ahead.
"Coming here, it's not like I was a first time coach, it's not like our staff was the first time being together," Franklin said. "We had a plan and we believed in the plan, it was detailed, it was thorough, it was organized and it wasn't like we were just trying to take a plan from school 'x' and bring it to school 'z', we had modified it to Penn State and we believed in it. Although there were rough patches and tough times, we stuck to the plan."
For Franklin, amidst a 10-win season, a Big Ten title and a Big Ten Championship game on the horizon, there's still a long way to go. Although pleased with the progress that has been made, there's still much to do moving forward as the plan continues to unfold.
On the heels of Spartan victory, Franklin joined the Big Ten Championship game conference call Sunday afternoon, giving just a glimpse of what the recent the success has paved the way for, in terms of the next piece of a process that will ultimately take time.
"Now we have recent success that allows people, instead of talking about what Penn State was, people are now talking about what Penn State is, and that's exciting."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State Football is headed to the Big Ten Championship game with a Saturday matchup against Wisconsin set for 8:17 p.m. at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
"We are looking forward to seeing a big contingent obviously this week in Indianapolis," Nittany Lion head coach James Franklin said. "It should be fun. It should be exciting."
Penn State is set to make its first appearance in the Big Ten Championship game, having claimed its third overall Big Ten regular season title and second divisional crown since joining the conference in 1993.
As he does weekly, Franklin recapped last weekend's 45-12 win against Michigan State before turning the focus toward Wisconsin.
Looking back at the Michigan State victory, Franklin was quick to point out that the Nittany Lions committed just one penalty, noting both focus and discipline as a key to another team win.
"The thing I'm probably most proud of is this team's focus overall, their discipline, and our chemistry," Franklin said.
With positive takeaways from offense, defense and special teams, Franklin also revealed Nittany Lion coaching staff's player of the week awards with Trace McSorley on offense, Brandon Bell and Marcus Allen splitting defense and Blake Gillikin earning special teams honors.
Both McSorley and Bell earned a few more honors for their standout performances against the Spartans. McSorley earned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honor.
Turning the focus toward the Badgers, Franklin stressed that consistency has been key for Wisconsin, which is making its fourth trip to the Big Ten Championship game in the last six years.
"What I would say about these guys is when you think in your mind or at least when I think in my mind of what a traditional Big Ten team is, that's who these guys are," Franklin said.
With a big physical presence on offense and a defense bolstered by a stout front seven and a strong linebacking unit, Franklin also made note of the Badger special teams unit.
"The thing that really jumps out is they are solid and consistent in all phases on special teams," Franklin said. "One of the things that they do on punt return is line up, screen move and shift their fronts. They've gotten so many people to jump off-sides by real fast screen jumping or moving guys down the line of scrimmage. It has caused everybody to jump off-sides. There's been some games it's happened multiple times."
Quote Board -
- Franklin on the matchup between Wisconsin's secondary and the Nittany Lion receivers.
"I think the explosive plays come from Trace's mobility, when he is able to step up in the pocket and extend plays. He's also one of those quarterbacks that when he steps up in the pocket, even when he's kind of on the run, he's eyes are downfield."
"The other thing is, as good as defensive backs are all over the country, and specifically in the Big Ten, if the offensive line can protect and the quarterback can extend [the play], I don't care who you are, I think playing defensive back may be one of the most difficult positions in all of sports. You're basically doing everything that most people do backwards. It's all reactionary."
- Franklin on the progress Ryan Bates has made.
"I think that's probably one of the bigger stories of our season. We have always thought he was talented enough. Trust me, we got into a discussion with the staff the other day, Josh Gattis brought this up a long time ago, we've all kind of seen it and discussed it. There's some aspects of his body type that you'd say he's probably more fit for center or guard, but his feet and his athleticism and his comfort in space make him really good at tackle."
- Schwan on the potential Wisconsin could utilize two quarterbacks.
"Throughout the entire season we've played teams that have had the same situation, where they'll put a guy in who's a bigger guy that can kind of run you over. They'll put a speed guy in to do certain jet sweeps. We'll prepare for that accordingly."
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.
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