Penn State entered the game with Indiana riding a high from the effects of defeating Iowa handily the week before, and with national attention as the No. 10 team in the college football playoff rankings. Following the Penn State victory, chaos around the college football landscape has brought the Lions just one game away from holding its national championship hopes in its own hands.
The first series of the game got out to a pleasant start for the visiting Lions. A Trace McSorley pass to Saquon Barkley on 3rd and 7 went for 32 yards. The next play was a 17-yard pass to Chris Godwin that took the ball inside the Indiana ten yard line. Everything seemed to be clicking for Penn State. Then the next two plays outlined what would become the norm for the most part of the afternoon. Barkley was stopped for a loss of one yard, then a loss of six, while PSU tried to run the ball into the end zone. On third and ten, McSorley saved the drive with a ten-yard touchdown run.
Easy-peasy, we all thought for a moment, Penn State was going to take control of the game early. Twelve possessions later, as the teams swapped punts, fumbles, and turnovers on downs, the game was tied at 7 apiece with less than five minutes remaining in the first half. The hearts of Penn State fans were undergoing an unexpected stress test.
It was at that point that Indiana made a critical mistake. Isaac James mishandled a punt return, the third lost fumble of the game for Indiana to that point, and Penn State recovered the ball just six yards from pay dirt. One play later McSorley found Godwin in the end zone to extend the lead to 14-7.
On the ensuing drive the Penn State defense stiffened, holding Indiana to a quick three and out. With two minutes remaining in the first half, Trace McSorley made a poor throw over the middle on third down that was intercepted, and Indiana took over at the Penn State 32. It only took five plays for the Hoosiers to tie the game and the teams went to half time tied at 14.
While it would have been nice to have a lead on the road at the half, Penn State fans comforted themselves with the knowledge that the Lions have had a great deal of success in the second half this season. Five possessions into the second half, with just 18 minutes left to play in the game, Penn State found itself down ten points to an Indiana team that was playing very tough on the defensive side of the ball. This was not how things were supposed to unfold, thought Nittany Nation, and some began to doubt whether the team could make a comeback.
Penn State lost tackle Paris Palmer for the season early in the game, forcing the offensive line to shuffle. Two players that normally man interior positions on the line were plugged in at tackle, and it took a while for the team to find its way on offense.
With 1:09 left on the third quarter clock Trace McSorley guided his team to the end zone with a pass of 43 yards to Saeed Blacknall and a touchdown pass of 21 yards to Chris Godwin. Trailing by three points early in the fourth quarter, the Penn State defense provided a quick three and out. The Lions made quick work of the opportunity on the strength of a 54 yard catch by DaeSean Hamilton on a flea-flicker play, scoring in just five plays on its next possession to take a 28-24 lead.
It appeared once again that Penn State was ready to take control of the game. Once again Indiana squashed those hopes, going 75 yards on 7 plays, regaining the lead in just 1:17 of game time. Indiana quarterback Richard Lagow found Nick Westbrook streaking into the end zone for a 40-yard touchdown reception.
The play was a punch in the stomach to Nittany Lion fans that were riding the ups and downs of the game at that point, wondering if the team would be able to overcome the adverse circumstances on the road. Down three points with 8 minutes remaining in the game, Penn State punted the ball away to Indiana.
Any hope of a road win rested on the shoulders of the Penn State defense. It responded with a quick three and out, in which Indiana gained a total of -9 yards. Trace McSorley guided the offense toward the end zone, with time running down, using a 13-yard pass to tight end Mike Gesicki and a 26 yard toss to Chris Godwin.
From that point Saquon Barkley willed the team into the end zone. After a run of two yards on first down, Barkley pushed through would-be tacklers to gain a gritty 13 yards on the next play, taking the ball to the Indiana 2 yard-line. On paper the play would not stand out, but it was the longest run of the day for Barkley, and it came at a critical moment. Following an incomplete pass in the direction of Mike Gesicki, Barkley took the hand-off and bowled his way for a two-yard touchdown run.
Barkley ran for 58 yards on 33 carries but the yards he gained, and his continued threat to break one big, allowed Penn State to keep the Indiana defense honest.
Once again the Penn State defense was given the chance to make an impact, and once again it responded. Indiana gave the ball up on downs at its own 22 yard-line with just over two minutes remaining in the game. Penn State added a field goal, taking a 7 point lead with just 1:07 left in the game.
The kickoff by Joe Julius was covered brilliantly by the Penn State cover team, forcing Indiana to start its final drive at its own 13. Lagow made a gutsy throw on third down to keep the drive alive at the Indiana 27 with 45 seconds remaining in the game.
Following an incomplete pass on first down, Brandon Bell blew the game open with a sack of Lagow which forced a fumble. Torrence Brown picked the ball up and ran nine yards into the end zone for the final dagger in the hearts of the Hoosier faithful.
The Lions held on for a 45-31 road win.
Young Offensive Line Getting Younger
Many Penn State football fans yearned for the future to get here quickly so that the offensive line could be restocked with the talent that coach James Franklin has brought in with recent recruiting classes. The future got here quicker than we thought it would.
With three injuries at the tackle position, the Lions were forced to shuffle the deck on the offensive line. Entering the season it seemed inconceivable that the team would be able to withstand the loss of Andrew Nelson, Brandon Mahon, and Paris Palmer. The team did just that.
It’s been hard to miss Chasz Wright on the Penn State roster and sideline. The 6’7, 343-pound redshirt sophomore was an enigma just a few weeks ago. Many fans wondered when the behemoth guard/center would see the field for the blue and white. Last week Wright got his first shot, at tackle, to display his skills when Brandon Mahon went down with an injury. This week he continued his solid play at the unfamiliar position of tackle. When Paris Palmer was injured early in the game, redshirt freshman guard Ryan Bates was forced to move to tackle. Derek Dowry was inserted at guard, and though it wasn’t always smooth, the Lions offensive line held up, giving the team a chance to run the offense.
After a couple of seasons of struggle on the offensive line it appears that the tide has turned. Offensive line coach Matt Limegrover and coordinator Joe Moorhead deserve a great deal of credit for the ability to plug in multiple players, at positions that are not their natural spot, and remain competent on offense. The play-calling helps, the scrambling of McSorley is a great asset, but the overall calm confidence of this once maligned unit speaks volumes. Many of the same players that seemed unable to do the job on the offensive line last season have proven capable in this new offense, with the coaching they are now receiving.
Ryan Bates has several games under his belt and it is becoming easy to forget that he is just a redshirt freshman. The opposite side guard is a true freshman, Connor McGovern. The youth movement is in full effect.
With all of the young talent on the field on the offensive line, one of the key aspects of their success this season is to maintain the redshirt status of freshmen linemen Michael Menet and Will Fries. Four years from now the team may very well look back to the depth that players such as Wright and Steven Gonzalez have provided, along with former-starter Derek Dowry, and be thankful that Fries and Menet were able to maintain their eligibility through all of this adversity.
Punt Week: Penn State Retains The Old Wooden Foot
Indiana punter Joseph Gedeon punted 5 times for an average of 43.6 yards per punt. Penn State punter Blake Gillikin punted 6 times for an average of 38.8 yards, but a punt of 21 yards hurt his average. It was one of the more spectacular 21-yard punts that will be seen. Gillikin, with his left hand bandaged, fumbled the snap. Not missing a beat, the freshman ran to the ball, picked it up, stepped away from several Hoosier rushers, and got the ball off for a positive gain. It was a play early in the game that could have given Indiana a very short field, if not a touchdown.
The athleticism shown by the young Penn State punter is enough to retain the fictional trophy that is given after each PSU/Indiana football game. The Old Wooden Foot will remain in Happy Valley, in the locker of Blake Gilliken, until the teams meet again.