Big mistakes and big gambles have staked No. 6 Wisconsin to a 28-14 lead over No. 7 Penn State through one half of the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis.
The game opened perfectly for Wisconsin and vice versa for Penn State. The Badgers forced a three-and-out on the opening possession and promptly moved 81 yards in 14 well-crafted plays, consuming eight minutes on the dot to set up a 1-yard Austin Ramesh plunge to put the Badgers on the board. Wisconsin then forced another three-and-out and again turned its offensive opportunity into points, though these came on a 67-yard Corey Clement scoring dash.
Penn State answered with a 75-yard touchdown drive, punctuated by a 33-yard beauty from Trace McSorley to Mike Gesicki, and threatened to climb all the way back in the game after forcing a Wisconsin punt. But an errant snap went over McSorley’s head and the quarterback, looking at the red-and-white calvary and not the football, could not corral the ball as Wisconsin defender Ryan Connelly returned the loose pigskin 12 yards for a touchdown.
Perhaps overcompensating for that mistake, Penn State’s next possession ended when James Franklin elected to go for a 4th-and-2 at his own 42 and McSorley’s pass fell incomplete. Wisconsin again punished the Nittany Lions for that mistake with a 5-play scoring drive, putting Penn State’s faint Playoff hopes in serious jeopardy with a 28-7 deficit with 5:15 to play in the second quarter.
Penn State again went for a 4th-and-short at midfield on their next possession. This try ended in a T.J. Watt sack, though Wisconsin did not turn this short field into points.
McSorley’s second touchdown pass of the half, a 40-yard coverage bust to Saeed Blacknall, pulled the Lions back within two scores at the 1:08 mark of the second quarter. McSorley has hit 12-of-20 passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns.
Bart Houston garnered the start for a banged up Alex Hornibrook and hit 6-of-10 passes for 66 yards while Clement carried 13 times for 113 yards and a touchdown. As a team, Wisconsin has out-rushed Penn State 164-39.
Wisconsin will receive to open the second half.
The Power Five championship games so far this weekend have mostly been runaways and No. 3 Clemson appeared to be doing their part early on to add the ACC title game to that list.
The Tigers jumped out to a three score lead on Saturday night before Virginia Tech clawed their back into the contest and cut the Clemson lead to 21-14 heading into halftime.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson continued to make a late season run at the Heisman Trophy with a performance to match in the half, going 14-of-19 for 117 yards and two scores through the air while adding another touchdown on the ground. Tight end Jordan Leggett caught both of Watson’s passes in the end zone and led the team with 44 yards receiving.
Virginia Tech couldn’t get much going on either side of the ball before the second quarter, giving up over five yards per play and committing several big penalties on defense while failing to move the ball effectively on offense. The Hokies first touchdown only came as the result of both a fake punt and a fullback pass to get the team into the red zone, where Travon McMillian punched it in at the goal line from one yard out.
Things started to turn around in the second quarter though, as Bud Foster’s defense tightened up and the offense finally started to click. There was no run game to speak of for the Coastal Division champions but the passing game picked up as the game went on and added a second touchdown to cut into the lead late.
There’s still plenty of time for Virginia Tech to make things even more interesting since they get the ball to start the second half. On the flip side, all Clemson likely needs to make the College Football Playoff is a win so if they can regain the momentum they had early in the game, they’ll be well on their way.
As Alabama looks to turn in back-to-back national championship seasons, the Crimson Tide’s defense will likely do so without one of its most productive players on that side of the ball.
Late in the first half of UA’s resounding SEC title game win over overmatched Florida, Shaun Dion Hamilton went down with a knee injury. Following the game, Nick Saban indicated that it is serious enough to “probably” sideline the middle linebacker for the entirety of the postseason.
“Shaun Dion has a knee. He’s probably going to be out for the year,” the head coach said.
A more definitive diagnosis will be made once the team gets back to Tuscaloosa.
Prior to his injury, which left him watching the remainder of the game on crutches from the sidelines, Hamilton had intercepted the second pass of his career.
Entering the game, Hamilton was second on the Tide in tackles. He’ll be replaced in the starting lineup by Rashaan Evans.
“[W]we have a lot of confidence in Rashaan, and he did a good job for us today,” said Saban.
On the same night West Virginia put the finishing touches on a much-needed bounceback season, the man in charge of the rebound has been rewarded.
Shortly after WVU’s win over Baylor in the regular-season finale, the school confirmed in a press release that Dana Holgorsen has agreed to a new contract to remain on with the Mountaineers. Holgorsen’s new deal runs through the 2021 season; his old deal had been set to expire after the 2017 season.
The announcement comes nine months after it was reported that talks between the two sides had come to an end, raising questions about Holgorsen’s long-term future with the program. This deal confirms that, in the here and now, Holgorsen and athletic director Shane Lyons are singing from the same hymnal.
“I said back in the spring that Coach Holgorsen and I were focused on nothing but a successful 2016 football season, and I think we’ve proven that,” Lyons said in a statement. “Now that the regular season has come to a close, the time is right to finalize a new contract for Dana and keep our program going in a positive direction.
“Dana and I have always had a good, open dialogue, and we want this program to succeed at the highest level,” Lyons added. “I am pleased and happy that he wants to continue to lead the Mountaineer football program. Part of my job is to give him the resources to succeed, and we will continue to work together closely to bring the very best to West Virginia football.”
Saturday’s night win gives the Mountaineers 10 in 2016 with a bowl remaining, the first time they’ve reached double digits since Holgorsen’s first season in 2011. In between, Holgorsen’s squad stumbled to a 26-25 overall record and a 15-21 mark in Big 12 play, leading some to put the coach on the hot seat entering each of the last two seasons.
The second-place finish in the Big 12 is easily the program’s best since joining the conference for the 2012 season. With a bowl victory, WVU would hit 11 wins for the first time since 2007 and just the sixth time in program history.
“I am proud of our team and what we have accomplished this year by being only the ninth squad in school history to win 10 games in a season,” Holgorsen said. “I want to congratulate and thank our coaching staff and players for a job well done. I also want to thank President Gee, Shane and Keli Cunningham for their commitment and support. Going forward, my focus is squarely on recruiting and the upcoming bowl game. I strongly believe that our football program is in position to be successful for a very long time.
Holgorsen’s 2016 salary called for total pay of $2.98 million, seventh amongst Big 12 head coaches. The new deal would bump his 2017 salary to $3.5 million, fifth in the league. With annual raises built in, Holgorsen’s total pay would top out at $4 million in the final year of the deal.