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Bright Spots Among The Heartache

Stats are fun but for this game they didn’t tell the story.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

The statistics were gaudy on the Penn State side but in the end it was a few miscues that cost the team a win on the road against Indiana.

There were several plays in the first half alone that could have turned a loss into a win for the Lions. While Indiana was struggling to gain 87 yards in the first half, James Franklin’s team was busy shooting itself in the foot while gaining a healthy 173 first half yards. The Hoosiers led 17-7 at the half due to two interceptions and a fumble by Penn State quarterbacks.

Kirk Ciarrocca’s offense continued to move the ball in the second half, out-gaining Indiana 315 to 124, but penalties began to creep in. What looked like a smooth touchdown drive early in the third quarter turned into a field goal attempt from 47 yards due to penalties. Jake Pinegar missed the attempt and a 25-yard field goal earlier in the game.

Late in the game Devyn Ford had a chance to go to the ground inside the five yard-line, which would have given the Lions a chance to bleed the clock down with a first down and just 1:42 on the clock, up 21-20. Instead, Ford hesitated while crossing into the end zone, giving Indiana a chance to complete a game-tying scoring drive and two-point conversion.

Had Ford gone to the ground, Indiana could have only stopped the clock once with their lone timeout, and the Lions could have run out the clock. Ford clearly was not sure what he should have done, as he looked back to the bench after he scored.

The final play of the game will live in infamy for many in the Penn State universe. You can slow it down even further using the controls on the video screen.

It was a great effort for the two-point conversion by Indiana quarterback Micheal Penix, Jr., but there appeared to be daylight between the football and the pylon, while the football was on the ground. The call on the field was made that it was a good two-point conversion and after a long review, the play was not confirmed. It was ruled to stand, which means that had it been called, what some would say properly, it is likely that the proper call would have stood as well.

The refs do the best that they can and the replay official would have been right to overturn it or to let it stand had it been called either way. The final play should not be looked at as the play that cost the team. There were many plays that could have been made that were not for the Lions along the way to the heart-breaking loss.

Receivers Looked Good

There were plenty of bright spots in this game for the Nittany Lions. Once the pain of the loss subsides we will have an easier time seeing them. It’s no surprise that Pat Freiermuth scored the first touchdown of the season and led the Lions with 7 catches on 10 targets. Jahan Dotson was targeted just 5 times but he cashed in with 94 yards, including a 60-yard grab for a 21-20 lead late in the game.

Daniel George and Parker Washington played very well even though it did not look like it in the scoring sheet. George had two very important catches to continue drives on third and long while Washington made his first two college catches in overtime, including a touchdown. Washington and George each blocked well and filled their roles, which is important considering Dotson and Freiermuth are superstars. It’s critical that Clifford will be able to rely on his 3rd and 4th options when teams double the two best weapons.

KeAndre Lambert-Smith caught both passes thrown his way, another bright spot for the young Lions’ wideouts. Brenton Strange caught the one ball thrown his way and on the other few dozen plays that he was on the field, like the solid tight end that he is, he blocked effectively.

Defense Was Solid

The Penn State defense played very well even though it was not able to stop Indiana on their final two drives, giving up 16 points after holding an 8-point lead with 1:20 left in the game. Six Lions recorded a single tackle and two of them, Mike Miranda and Rasheed Walker, play offensive tackle.

The play of the offense for James Franklin’s team effected the numbers on the defensive side. Indiana was given a few short fields and didn’t have many long drives, so there weren’t many statistics to be had for the Lions. Indiana recorded 80 tackles, Penn State had 43.

The good news, especially with Ohio State coming to town next week, is that the defense looks very capable. When Jesse Luketa was removed for targeting, Lance Dixon stepped in and played well. Already playing without Micah Parsons, the loss of Luketa put a strain on the linebacker depth chart but Dixon responded. Both Brandon Smith and Dixon were shutout in the stat sheet but they were doing their job out there.

Shaka Toney stepped up when the team needed him, recording sacks on consecutive plays to get the Lions the ball and a chance to ice the game. Tariq Castro-Fields and Joey Porter Jr. each were great at cornerback. Lamont Wade may not have led the team statistically but it is clear that he is the leader of the defense, impacting the game from his safety position with his versatility, knowledge and most of all, inspiring his teammates.

Quick Hits

  • I know for some people this loss will seem like the end of the Lions’ National Championship hopes. That is not the case. If the Lions run the table all the way to the Big Ten Championship, it should be enough to keep hope alive. It’s a big task, of course, but any would-be champion would have to be able to pull off such a feat. The margin of error has been erased.
  • The offensive line played very well, which is no surprise. It’s a veteran group and the only sack that it gave up was for a 3-yard loss. The squad opened up lanes for runningbacks and also Sean Clifford. It gave Clifford either time to throw or a lane to escape from the pass rush.
  • The field goal kicking went 0-3 but one was a 57-yard try at the end of regulation that fell just short for Jordan Stout. Jake Pinegar missed a couple of tries that he normally would make and we’ll hope he shakes that off. Jahan Dotson had a muffed punt that almost became a turnover in the first half and looked a little shaky out there at times returning kicks. It wasn’t the best effort for the special teams. If Jordan Stout had a couple more yards in his try or had Pinegar hit the other side of the post and had it bounce in, we would have an easier time overlooking the setbacks.
  • Jordan Stout punted 3 times with an average of 39.7 yards per attempt. His longest went for 49 yards and two were located inside the 20. His average was down a little due to punting one from midfield so overall he looked good while replacing one of the best punters to ever play at Penn State in Blake Gillikin.
  • Hang in there folks. Enjoy the journey no matter where it takes us. A win this Saturday would change things. Let’s put it all on this next game. Stay happy this week and create a positive atmosphere; allow the team to feel it has the full support of its fan base. We waited nearly a year to see Penn State play football again. In just six days the team will have a chance to make a huge statement, one that could nullify this loss. A 1-1 record with a win over Ohio State could sit better than a 1-1 record with a win against Indiana.