INDIANAPOLIS — Penn State’s offense rewrote the Big Ten Championship’s offensive record book Saturday night but its 38-31 victory over Wisconsin wasn’t secure until the final minute.
And Linebacker U. got the game-saving play from the secondary.
Wisconsin, armed with a pair of timeouts and lining up for a fourth-and-1 play from the Nittany Lions’ 24, called on Corey Clement. Clement, who’d already racked up 166 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, got the ball but never got close to the marker.
Grant Haley made sure of it.
The junior cornerback wrapped up Clement’s legs and safety Marcus Allen kept Clement from leaning forward and the game was over. Penn State (11-2) has the 2016 Big Ten title and, at worst, will play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2009.
“They ran [a counter] early in the game and split it for a touchdown,” Haley said of the final play. “I saw them set the edge, so I got triggered really well and Marcus finished off the play.”
Haley and company watched the Badgers run wild in the first half; 164 yards and three touchdowns, including Clement’s 67-yard scamper. Wisconsin, one of the conference’s best rushing teams this season, managed less than half that total (77) in the second half.
“They really weren’t running that many plays,” Haley added. “We just came out in the second half and had a jolt.
“We just had the energy going into the second half.”
Wisconsin got the ball twice in the fourth quarter but managed only 65 yards -- 51 of which came on its final drive.
“Give credit to Penn State for coming out in the second half and making those adjustments and allowing those big plays to happen,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said.
Give plenty of credit, too, to the Nittany Lions’ offense.
Quarterback Trace McSorley was named the game’s most valuable player after completing 22 of 31 for 384 yards and four touchdowns — the latter two championship game records. He helped Penn State complete the biggest comeback in the game’s six-year history after the Nittany Lions fell behind 28-7 in the first half and also finished the regular season with 3,360 yards and 25 touchdown passes, both school records.
Saeed Blacknall had six catches for a Big Ten Championship-record 155 yards and two touchdowns and DaeShean Hamilton finished with 118 yards on eight grabs.
Tailback Saquon Barkley, injured in last weekend’s victory over Michigan State, returned with 88 yards and a touchdown on the ground and caught an 18-yard scoring pass from McSorley early in the fourth quarter to put the Nittany Lions ahead for good.
Penn State, in its first-ever trip to this game, is coming home from it with just its second outright Big Ten title. It’s on a nine-game winning streak that has seen it average 40 points per contest.
It also could present the College Football Playoff selection committee with a bit of quandary. The Nittany Lions, who were ranked seventh by the committee last week, topped the No. 6 Badgers and claimed a conference championship, something likely playoff teams Alabama, Clemson and Washington all boast.
On the flip side, Penn State’s last defeat was a lopsided 49-10 loss at Michigan, which sits at No. 5 in the rankings and likely won’t move into the top four after losing last week to No. 2 Ohio State.
Penn State coach James Franklin stated his team’s case after Saturday night’s win, but also made it clear he and his team won’t be moping their way to Pasadena, Calif., where the conference champion is slotted if it is not chosen for the playoff.
“We’ve got great options in front of us,” he said. “I hear people on TV talking about they feel like maybe the playoff has taken away from the bowls.
“Are you kidding me? The Rose Bowl? It doesn’t get a whole lot better than that.”