"I went to school in this state. I know a lot about Pennsylvania and it's great," Trump said. "How's Joe Paterno? We gonna bring that back? How about that whole deal?"
The term "Joe Paterno" quickly became a top trending topic on Twitter, with many asking if Trump knew Paterno was dead. A video clip was posted on YouTube.
Paterno, once one of the most revered college athletic coaches in the United States, was fired by Pennsylvania State University in 2011 over a child sexual abuse scandal involving assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Paterno died on Jan. 21, 2012. Sandusky was later convicted on child sex abuse charges.
Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said the candidate was referring to a statue of Paterno that was removed from the campus in 2012. A Quinnipiac University survey in 2015 showed that many Pennsylvanians want it returned to the campus.
Penn State spokesman Ben Manning said on Thursday the university does not comment on candidates' campaign speeches.
Social media users mocked Trump for seemingly implying that he would bring Paterno back to life.
"Someone should tell Trump that Joe Paterno is dead and also that he conspired with a serial child rapist," tweeted kept_simple (@kept_simple).
BuzzFeed political editor Katherine Miller (@katherinemiller) tweeted, "Trump obviously meant when are we going to bring back the Paterno statue and then, subsequently, Paterno back from beyond, through sorcery."
Twitter users with accounts geo-tagged to the university's home, the town of State College, had mixed reactions.
"Bring Paterno back? @realdonaldtrump has odd expectations of his abilities, and responsibilities, as president," tweeted Holly Swanson (@StateCollegeMom).
Not all reaction was negative.
"All Trump has to do is say he'll bring the Paterno statue back. He'll win PA in a landslide," Kalooz (@Kalzony53).
Trump had weighed in on the fallout from the Sandusky scandal in July 2012 when the National Collegiate Athletic Association levied sanctions against Penn State's football program. He said in a tweet that the program should be suspended.