#10 Penn State 45, Indiana 31
I could use some trite-ass headlines such as “A Tale of Two Halves” (or “Halfs”, as I’ve seen on the Internet), but instead I’ll blame the moniker “Second Half Team” on James Franklin. The Nittany Noonies (8-2, 6-1) had to come from behind to beat the Whodat Hoosiers (5-5, 3-4) in another slow start with the newfound feature of a false start — a promising opening drive followed by a gawd-awful rest of the first half. They could have made Indiana look good, were the Hoosiers not equally inept.
First Half Ineptitude
Yeah, the Nittany Lions impressed us with an eight-play, 60-yard touchdown drive to start the game, then they sputtered, falling asleep and never fully regaining consciousness until the end of the third quarter.
Indiana tried to give them a break when they fumbled at the PSU 24 late in the first quarter. All the Lions could muster was a three-and-out.
Indiana fumbled again at 10:14 of the second quarter, and the lions responded with a four-and-out. “OK,” said the Hoosiers. “We’ll give you another chance.” They fumbled at their own 49 at 7:54 of the 2nd. Penn State got the ball, couldn’t move it, and punted to Isaac James, who in turn fumbled the ball at the Indiana 6 yard-line, as if to say, “Here’s your fourth chance and this one is so close to pay dirt that you CANNOT fuck it up!” This time PSU obliged Indiana with a Trace McSorley pass to Chris Godwin for a touchdown for a 14-7 lead with 4:43 left in the half.
However, the ineptitude wasn’t yet over. After a three-and-out following the kickoff, Indiana punted, giving the ball back to Penn State, who started out at their own 22. Three plays later, McSorley threw an interception to Rashard Fant, ending the fledgling drive. “We don’t want it. Here, take it back!” Indiana obliged by scoring with a five-play, 32 yard drive to make it 14-14 with a minute left. Penn State’s final drive went nowhere. It was 14-14 at the half.
Wake Me Up before You Go-Go
Opening the second half with a nine-play drive for a field goal, the Hoosiers announced that if the Nittany Lions weren’t interested in winning, they would rescind all their beneficent offers and try to win it themselves. They scored another touchdown, making it 24-14. The ten-point lead seemed mighty big, given that Penn State couldn’t move the ball. Abetted by the absence of a PSU offensive line, the Hoosiers had solved Saquon Barkley, who would wind up being held to 58 yards on the ground, only 20 of them in the first three quarters (before wakey-wakey time).
The Nittany Lions woke up sometime around 3:13 of the third quarter when Miles Sanders returned a kickoff 27 yards, giving PSU a good starting point at their own 30. They were able to drive for a touchdown in five plays from there, relying on two big passing plays, a 43 yarder to Saeed Blacknall, and the ultimate scoring play, a 21-yard pass to Chris Godwin. 24-21 Indiana.
Coming from Behind
After a three-and-out by Indiana, Penn State’s offense began to play in earnest as the fourth quarter rolled around. Barkley started it off by getting free for 12 yards, and followed that with another five yard run. On second-and-five, McSorley heaved a 54-yard pass to DaeSean Hamilton who was tackled at the Indiana 3. Two plays later, Barkley ran it in for a TD. 28-24, Penn State. But Indiana wasn’t done.
After the kickoff, the Hoosiers drive 75 yards on the rather befuddled Penn State defense for a touchdown that made it 31-28 Indiana, with 11:06 left in the fourth quarter.
The two teams then traded punts. Starting from their own 43, the Nittany Lions drove for another touchdown with 3:58 left. They added a field goal as the clock wound down toward the one-minute mark. They led 38-31.
Indiana had one drive left but they reverted to their fumbleitis, as Brandon Bell forced Richard Lagow to fumble on the on the Indiana nine-yard line and Torrence Brown ran it in for a PSU touchdown. Final score, Penn State 45, Indiana 31.
A Win is a Win
You can say that, but geez, what a crappy game. The defense was putrid. God only knows what Indiana could have done if they had taken care of the ball. The offensive line was back to being Five Traffic Cones. Sure, injuries have taken a severe toll on a unit that was marginal (but improving) in the first place. Yeah, I know. Give them a break, right? OK, I’ll lay off for the rest of this article, but they’ve got to do better. Barkley’s failure to gain traction was mostly their fault.
Were it not for their five turnovers, Indiana might well have won the game. They chalked up 454 yards to Penn State’s 409 and had 20 first downs to Penn State’s 18. They were 8-17 in third-down conversions; the Nittany Lions could only muster 4-14 (28.6%), which is the continuing lousy story of the past two seasons.
Trace McSorley ended the day with 16-30 for 332 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Saquon Barkley carried the ball 33 times for 58 yards. Ploo!
Indiana deserves lots of credit. Rich Lagow is very good at what he does. He wound up 24-41 for 292 yards passing, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. His backup, California kid Zander Diamont, completed his only attempted pass for 52 yards, which led to a touchdown. Stud running back Devine Redding had 23 carries for 108 yards and two touchdowns.
This turkey had observed that Indiana invariably wins when Lagow completes over 60% of his passes. In this game, he completed 57%. Close, but no cigar — and turnovers’ll kill ya.
For Penn State, noon starts on the road’ll kill ya. In fact, this one almost did.
Now We Root for the Buckeyes
Yeah, you know the scenario. Penn State wins out and winds up tied for the lead in the Big Ten, and whether they go to the championship game depends on who wins the season-ender in Columbus between Michigan and Ohio State. Assuming that they can beat Indiana next week, if Michigan wins, they would be the East Division champ because they hold the tie-breaker over PSU. If Ohio State wins (assuming that they beat Moo U. next week), Penn State would win the East Division and would go to the Championship game. A lot of “if’s” there, but dreaming is cheap.
But We Have to Take Care of Business
Two games left — don’t even start thinking about the Big Ten Championship! Take them one at a time. Sure, Rutgers and Moo U. are a combined 1-13 in the Big Ten, but shit happens and that #10 ranking better sure as hell not go to these Nittany Lions’ heads. We fans can sit on our asses laughing at Rutgers and Moo U. (whose only conference win came from beating putrid Rutgers), but anything can still happen and that’s why they play the games. Lose to either of those two laggards and not only is the championship game out of reach, but also we’ll be back to the Toilet Bowl.
In any case, the Nittany Lions have far exceeded my expectations this year. At 8-2, they could wind up with a 10-win season. I still have a hard time believing they are where they are. An angel on their shoulder? Yeah, the breaks have been going their way, but that crap evens out over the course of a season. This group of guys is pretty special.
I’ll be back on Monday with a look toward the forthcoming clash with the mighty (poor) Scarlet Knights of Rutgers.