The Penn State Nittany Lions used a combination of explosive plays on offense and stellar defensive play to clinch their first-ever trip to the Big Ten Championship by way of a 45-12 beat down of the Michigan State Spartans on Saturday afternoon.
The Nittany Lions clinched the Big Ten East with their victory over the Spartans and with Ohio State’s victory over Michigan earlier Saturday afternoon. Penn State held the tie-breaker over the Buckeyes because of Penn State’s victory over Ohio State earlier in the season.
To go along with Big Ten East division trophy, the Nittany Lions took home the Land-Grant trophy, awarded annually to the winner of the Michigan State-Penn State game.
With Nebraska losing Friday night, Wisconsin clinched its berth in the championship game before the day even started, but the Badgers went on to beat Minnesota, 31-17. The match-up next Saturday between the Badgers and the Nittany Lions will be the first time the two have played since 2013, a 31-24 victory for the Nittany Lions.
Getting to this point wasn’t easy for Penn State after starting the season 2-2 with key losses to in-state rival Pittsburgh and to conference-foe Michigan. Since their 49-10 loss to the Wolverines, the Nittany Lions have rattled off eight straight victories en route to the Big Ten Championship.
The road to the championship game began with a 25-yard Saquon Barkley rush in overtime against Minnesota. Barkley took the ball on Penn State’s first possession of overtime to the endzone — and the Nittany Lions haven’t looked back.
After the victory over the Golden Gophers, Penn State beat Maryland by 24 points before welcoming conference-rival and then-No. 2 Ohio State to Happy Valley for a prime-time game.
The Buckeyes went up by 14 before allowing 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to fall to the Nittany Lions. A blocked field goal returned for a touchdown helped seal the deal for Penn State, which found itself firmly in the top-25 in polls around the country.
Since the victory over the Buckeyes, the Nittany Lions have outscored opponents 232-81 and are averaging 46.4 points per game in that five-game span. While the offense has lit up the scoreboard, Penn State’s defense has held opponents to 16.2 points per game in that same span.
Much like the Nittany Lions, the Badgers have rattled off their own winning streak to head to the championship game. Following back-to-back losses to Michigan and Ohio State, Wisconsin has won six straight games to get to the top of the Big Ten West.
Against teams both the Nittany Lions and the Badgers played this season, Penn State is 5-1, while the Badgers are 4-2 ; both teams lost to Michigan.
The Big Ten Championship game will be played at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis next Saturday with an 8:17 p.m. EST kickoff.
Image credit: Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports