We’ve been counting down the days until kickoff. So, every day, we’ve tried to make that time tick by just a little faster by also counting down the top 30 moments of James Franklin’s tenure so far. Finally — with one day left — is the No. 1 moment since Franklin took the head-coaching job.
No. 1 moment: Penn State’s upset over Ohio State
This is it. The top moment of the James Franklin era at Penn State.
One could argue that winning a Big Ten title is more important. But this is the game that brought Penn State back to national relevance.
The Nittany Lions’ upset over Ohio State on Oct. 22, 2016 changed the course of the program.
Sure, it was the overtime win over Minnesota that jump-started Penn State’s nine-game winning streak last season. But the Nittany Lions shocking the Buckeyes on a White Out night at Beaver Stadium with a play that’ll be remembered by Penn State fans forever is more than worthy of the No. 1 spot.
Ohio State — then undefeated and sitting at No. 2 in the country — was supposed to handle Penn State with ease. The Nittany Lions were heavy home underdogs; the Buckeyes were 19.5-point favorites at sportsbooks monitored by OddsSharks.com.
After taking care of Oklahoma by 21 points and beating Wisconsin in overtime at Camp Randall Stadium, the Buckeyes were expected to have little trouble ousting Penn State.
And at first, it looked as if Ohio State would take care of business. Even with a crucial 20-yard touchdown grab by Chris Godwin before halftime, the Buckeyes led 21-7 entering the fourth quarter.
But the Nittany Lions’ deadly offense sparked a comeback. A 37-yard run by Saquon Barkley and 35-yard pass from Trace McSorley to Saeed Blacknall set up a two-yard scoring run for the quarterback.
On the ensuing drive, Penn State’s defense held Ohio State to a three-and-out, and lanky linebacker Cam Brown blocked Cameron Johnston’s punt. That set up a chip shot field goal for Tyler Davis, closing Ohio State’s lead to 21-17.
As every casual college football fan knows, special teams played a role yet again on Ohio State’s next drive. After taking the fourth-quarter game clock from 9:33 to 4:39, Buckeyes placekicker Tyler Durbin lined up for a rushed 45-yard field goal.
Penn State safety Marcus Allen leapt at the line to block the low kick, the ball sputtered toward the north end zone, and Grant Haley scooped it up. The speedy corner returned it 60 yards to the house, beating Johnston and Durbin to the end zone.
The White Out crowd exploded. The Beaver Stadium press box shook like never before. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer looked down at the ground, stunned as Franklin nearly lost his headset in the chaos.
Penn State had the lead — but it wasn’t over. The Nittany Lion defense had to close out the jaw-dropping upset.
Despite a couple Ohio State first downs, Brent Pry’s unit did its job. Jason Cabinda took down J.T. Barrett to bring up a 4th-and-23 on the Buckeyes’ 29-yard line, and Kevin Givens and Evan Schwan finished it off with a game-clinching sack.
With three kneel-downs, Penn State secured its biggest win at least a decade.
After a couple of 7-6 seasons and a rough start to 2016, this was the breakthrough Franklin and his Nittany Lions needed.
As a sea of white stormed the field at Beaver Stadium, Franklin was caught in the middle, overcome with emotion.
This is the game that brought Penn State “back.”
This was the night everyone will remember.