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Hey, Wha Happen: Penn State 29, Indiana 7

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Christian Hackenberg came out firing to help the Nittany Lions beat Indiana in their most complete game so far this season.

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Penn State's Big Ten schedule is officially upon us. There are no more safe non-conference games and even though the Nittany Lions were 4-1 coming into Homecoming weekend against Indiana, many believed this game to be Penn State's biggest test so far this season. For all the negativity surrounding the team's play over the last few weeks, Penn State shrugged off the naysayers and with some help from now Dual Threat Quarterback Christian Hackenberg, the Nittany Lions pulled together their best win so far this year.

Coming into Saturday's game, Indiana's pass defense was ranked the second lowest in the country, an obvious weakness Penn State was looking to exploit. The Nittany Lions almost did, too, on the first play of the game, with Christian Hackenberg lobbing a bomb down the left sideline to Chris Godwin, but he under-threw the wide receiver. On the very next play, third string running back Nick Scott -- getting his first start over injured RBs Akeel Lynch and Saquon Barkley -- broke through a hole in the middle for a 35 yard run. However, Penn State's first drive stalled after a sack and two incomplete passes from Hackenberg.

Indiana's first drive didn't fare much better either. Punter Dan Pasquariello pinned the Hoosiers inside their own 10 yard line, and Penn State's defense forced Indiana quarterback Zander Diamont into a 3rd and 10. Diamont picked up the down with his legs for a 16 yard run, but bad passing and near interceptions by Penn State forced the Hoosiers to punt.

It took until Penn State's third drive in the middle of the first quarter for the Nittany Lions to put up points. The drive almost was lost when Hackenberg was hit from behind and the ball popped loose, but the play was negated by an Indiana hands to the face penalty that gave Penn State a new set of downs after a 15 yard net gain. On Hackenberg's third completion of the day, freshman Brandon Polk pulled in a beautiful pass on a wheel route after gaining huge seperation. The 35 yard touchdown at 7:35 of the first quarter was Polk's first career TD reception, putting Penn State up 7-0.

Indiana came back firing on their next possession, mixing up the running and passing game for an 8 play, 65 yard scoring drive. Diamont hit three consecutive passes that moved the Hoosiers into the Penn State red zone, and the QB kept it himself on a fake for a 12 yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7-7. Indiana wasn't done with the trickery, and on the ensuing kickoff, the Hoosiers recovered their onside kick at midfield. Thankfully, Penn State's defense held the Indiana run game and the visitors had to punt after a three and out.

Penn State hit the next possession driving with Hackenberg completing two short passes with big runs after the catch for consecutive first downs. The offensive gameplan continued, targeting Indiana downfield, but twice during the drive, Hackenberg could not complete with receivers downfield. Just as the Nittany Lions were hitting their stride, running back Mark Allen fumbled the football after failing to secure Hackenberg's handoff at the Indiana 37 yard line to end the first quarter. The fumble was the first one lost by Penn State this season.

Bob Shoop's defense, after being burned in the red zone on the previous drive, held Indiana to only one first down on the next possession to start the second. With a key sack on second down, the defense was able to get off the field with no damage done after the Allen turnover.

On Penn State's next offensive possession with 12:55 to go in the second quarter, the Nittany Lions were driving once again, but a penalty stalled the drive in its tracks. In some offensive trickery from coordinator Donovan, Polk was given a reverse pitch play that he ran for 20 yards, but the run was called back by an illegal block below the waist. With a net loss of 15 yards, Penn State was forced to punt after what looked like a potential scoring drive.

After an inconsequential Indiana drive, Penn State put together their best possession of the afternoon, a four play touchdown drive. Allen got the drive started with a 28 yard run up the middle, breaking a few tackles and using the stiff arm to gain a few extra precious yards. On the next play, Godwin made a nice catch and utilized the spin move to pick up a first down to get to the Indiana 38. Allen lost a yard on the next run play, but Hackenberg more than made up for it with a Hamilton touchdown pass down the center of the field. However, Big Toe Joey Julius missed the extra point that kept the score at 13-7 with five minutes to play in the half.

Penn State capped off the first half with the Christian Hackenberg show. After hitting Mike Gesicki along the seam for a 16 yard play, then it was essentially all Hackenberg. The QB ran three times, including a big 22 yard run after surveying the field and finding no one open. Hackenberg finished the drive with a one yard TD bootleg run to put Penn State up 19-7 after Julius missed his second consecutive extra point.

After both teams went three-and-out to start the second half, Indiana's Diamont started to pick up steam but then a sideline infraction on head coach Kevin Wilson pushed the Hoosiers back into their own territory. To make things worse for Indiana, Diamont took a heavy hit from Garrett Sickels that looked to injure his right shoulder. Redshirt freshman Danny Cameron took over for Indiana midway through the third quarter.

Punts and defensive stands were the mainstay of the third. The biggest defensive play came when Indiana had marched themselves to the Nittany Lion 34 yard line. Penn State bent but did not break, and they stopped Indiana on a fourth and four with a helpful tipped ball via Anthony Zettel.

John Reid started the fourth quarter nicely for Penn State, picking off Cameron's pass that was tipped by his wide receiver and the Nittany Lion freshman laid out to catch Indiana's first interception of the day. A 21 yard quick throw from Hackenberg to tight end Kyle Carter got the Nittany Lions down near the Indiana red zone and the drive was completed once again by a Hackenberg taking it to the house himself on a five yard run to put Penn State up 26-7 with 10:37 to go in the game.

Tyler Davis, subbing in for Julius, capped off Penn State's scoring with five and a half minutes left with a 30 yard field goal that put the game to bed for the Nittany Lions with a final score of 29-7.

Without question, Saturday's win was Penn State's most complete game of the season. The Rutgers game was a great bounce back against a weak conference team, but Indiana came into Beaver Stadium with a 4-1 record and were effectively shut down by early offense and a stingy defense.

Three Completely Unrelated, Probably Useless Thoughts

  1. As stated above, this win is without a doubt Penn State's best of the season. And for once this year, John Donovan's offense looked to have a clear plan of attack instead of check downs and unnecessary trick plays. With the defense only giving up one touchdown drive, the offense finally stepped up and put up points instead of stalling like we've seen over the past few frustrating weeks. Let's hope this continues into the tougher weeks to come.
  2. Christian Hackenberg went 21 for 39 -- a statistic that could have been a lot higher if receivers caught the ball in the first half of the game -- and basically ran this game (pun intended) from start to finish. Besides throwing the deep ball that exploited Indiana's clear weakness, Hackenberg was mobile in ways we haven't seen before. Sure, a lot of his runs were in the open field, but it's still quite nice to see Hack do the Superman to get his second running touchdown of the day. Two throwing TDs to cap off his best performance of the year isn't bad either.
  3. We're one win away from bowl eligibility!! How about that?