Penn State: Back-to-Back Ten Win Seasons
Before the season started, I predicted that the Nittany Lions would be a two-loss team entering the postseason for a second straight year. That is precisely what happened in the 2017 football season. Penn State has back-to-back ten win seasons. Many Nittany Lions were awarded regular-season awards, including six players from seven different positions being named to the AP All-Big Ten Team and five different players to the SB Nation All-America Team. The defense faired especially well with nine Nittany Lions earning All-Big Ten Defensive Honors.
Close, hard-fought games have come to be expected in Happy Valley. This was not different in Big Ten play, much to the Nittany Lion faithful’s dismay. Let’s look how the Nittany Lions faired in the “key games” that I highlighted before the season started.
Pittsburgh (Week 2)
The atmosphere was electric in Beaver Stadium when the Panthers came to Happy Valley. Behind the 2017 Paul Hornung Award winner for most versatile player in college football, Saquon Barkley, Penn State won the match-up 33-14. Barkley had 183 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. The Nittany Lion defense dominated the Panthers with five sacks and two interceptions in front of a record crowd at Beaver Stadium.
Michigan (Week 7)
Penn State was embarrassed leaving Ann Arbor a season ago and wanted revenge. The Nittany Lions were undefeated entering the rematch against the Wolverines, which brought College GameDay to Happy Valley for the first time since 2009. Penn State definitely got payback, beating Michigan 42-13 in primetime. Barkley rushed for 108 yards and two touchdowns, in addition to a receiving touchdown. The Penn State defense held the Wolverines to 103 total rushing yards, had seven sacks and eight tackles for loss, and one fumble recovery. Finally, quarterback Trace McSorley rushed for three touchdowns of his own.
Ohio State (Week 8)
This was the second game of a tough stretch for the Nittany Lions, losing 39-38 in heartbreaking fashion. Penn State started the game hot, with Barkley returning the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. Furthermore, the Nittany Lions entered halftime tied with the Buckeyes. Ultimately, fans saw flashbacks of the second half of the Rose Bowl last season. The Penn State coaches took a conservative approach. Ohio State took advantage of this and scored 19 points in the fourth quarter to upset the, then, No. 2 Nittany Lions. This gave Penn State their first of two losses of the season. The second loss came a week later at Michigan State.
Nebraska (Week 11)
The final “key game” was the final home game of the regular season and Senior Day against the Cornhuskers. I had the pleasure of flying back to State College from Chicago on a plane with seven Nebraska fans after a four-hour delay on Thursday before the match-up. While the final score, 56-44, does not look like a decisive win for Penn State, the game was won in the first half. The Cornhuskers scored 20 points in the fourth quarter against the second and third string Nittany Lion defense to make the game look much closer than it was. Senior tight end Mike Gesicki had an outstanding game. He scored two touchdowns, his 13th, becoming Penn State’s career leader in touchdowns for a tight end. The one downfall for Penn State in this game was the defense giving up 399 yards through the air.
Penn State has back-to-back ten win seasons. The Nittany Lions were awarded their second-straight New Years Six Bowl appearance. Penn State will take on Washington in the Fiesta Bowl on December 30th in Glendale, Arizona.
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