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Stats And Storylines: It Hurts But It’s Worth It

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The Lions played well enough to stay in the game into the fourth quarter.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State came out hot, nearly getting into the end zone on its first play from scrimmage. Instead, Joey Porter Jr., was able to chase down Garrett Wilson after a 62-yard run. That only slowed the Buckeyes down as they scored two plays later and then again on the next series to take a 14-0 lead.

Things looked even more bleak for the Lions when a 3rd down pass fell short on the next possession. After the play it was ruled the Sean Clifford was driven into the ground, giving Penn State a fresh set of downs on a roughing the quarterback call. It led to a field goal. On the next drive Brent Pry’s defense was able to hold Ohio State off the board. With 13 minutes to go before the half the initial dust had settled and the deficit wasn’t out of hand for the home team.

Jordan Stout booted a 48-yard punt that was fair caught at the Penn State 31 and Pry’s defense had another chance to hold the Buckeyes off the board. Lamont Wade had a great tackle to hold a first down reception to a 1-yard gain. Antonio Shelton had a sack on the next play to force a 3rd and 17. Wade broke up an attempt to throw a screen pass then chased Justin Fields out of bounds to get the ball back for the Lions.

Kirk Ciarrocca’s offense was unable to move the ball but Jordan Stout kicked a 44-yard punt inside the 20 and after a penalty on the Buckeyes, the ball was spotted at the 9 yard line. Lamont Wade committed a pass interference on a throw that would not have been completed on 3rd down to prolong the next drive, which ended with a touchdown and 21-3 OSU lead.

The Lions were not able to move the ball but another nice punt by Stout, a 48 yarder, gave the defense enough space to protect the end zone to the half. In a weird series of events, Justin Fields was ruled to have downed the ball on fourth down just one second before halftime, and Penn State was given a chance to kick a 50-yard field goal. Jordan Stout, the field goal kicker for long field goals, put it through to cut the lead to 21-6 at the half.

Sean Clifford hit four different receivers for first-down plays before finding Jahan Dotson for a touchdown on the opening drive of the second half. Fields answered with a touchdown pass to Chris Olave.

After a stop by the OSU defense, Fields led a drive that ended with three points with efforts like this. Had Fields fallen to the ground it would have been a 50-yard kick, instead it was a chip-shot. His ability to stay upright and then find the open receiver was typical of the plays he made all night. He did whatever needed to be done.

The Buckeyes were up 31-13 but Penn State did not give up. Last week I described Jahan Dotson as a superstar and a few people wondered if that was a little bit grandiose of a description for the Lions’ wideout. Plays like this solidify his position as a player to be reckoned with for the rest of the Big Ten season. Note that he was working against Shaun Wade, one of the best cornerbacks in the country, for most of the night.

His effort cut the lead to 12 with 14:30 to play in the game. Five minutes later, one 4th and 1, Justin Fields answered with a touchdown pass to Jeremy Ruckert. Dotson caught another touchdown with 6:27 to play as Penn State answered back, getting back to within two scores. Shaun Wade was chasing Dotson in coverage once again.

Brent Pry’s defense was charged with coming up with a stop and Brandon Smith got a sack on 3rd down, hitting Fields hard for the first time all night. The play dropped the Buckeyes out of field goal range, forcing a punt with just under 4 minutes to play.

Sean Clifford was trying to make a play while scrambling but instead he threw an interception, ending the Lions’ final chance of coming back with a couple minutes to play.

Quick Hits

  • Linebacker Lance Dixon played well while Jesse Luketa was on the sideline for the first half. Dixon has a ton of athletic ability and he also has a ‘hand’ for the football. Some players have a nose for the football but Dixon likes to touch the ball and has deflected a pass and caused a fumble already this year. Brandon Smith had 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack. Ellis Brooks played solid and led the team with 11 tackles.
  • The Penn State receivers did not disappoint. After watching drops on a regular basis for a few years it was nice to see the ball get gobbled up when the Lions were trying to make a comeback in the second half. Not only did Jahan Dotson light it up, Parker Washington answered the call as well.
  • While it is not optimal to start the season with two losses, Penn State will have a very good chance to finish the season strong. The team may be favored to win each of the final 6 regular-season games, along with the Championship Week game.

Why Watch Penn State football?

Some people may wonder if a team can recover from a two-loss start. The players and coaches will bounce back, don’t worry about them, they will be fine. One the other hand, fans may need a little encouragement to get up off the mat.

So far the Lions have lost a road game in overtime to a ranked Indiana team which it had many opportunities to win; the team has also lost to a perennial playoff contender. While the pair of losses sting it should not change much for Penn State fans.

Some people follow the football program year-round even though the news that impacts the team from January to September could be summarized over a couple of beers before the first game of the season. That type of commitment is impressive but the true challenge comes during the season. Will fans stay as interested when adversity hits?

The answer to that in most cases is yes. The people that lose hope or turn on the players and coaches when they lose should not be the focus when the fan base is reeling. The rude people are outliers, though online they sometimes appear to be the majority.

Most people watch the games for reasons other than the need to fill a hole inside of them with a win by a team that they did not contribute to. They watch because they like football. The outcome doesn’t have to go in their favor to accomplish three-plus hours of entertainment.

It is a gift to have moments outside of the tensions that come with living through a pandemic. Football has given Lions’ fans two such occasions thus far. While the end of the stories did not work out the way we hoped, it is nice that a story is being told, rather than kept on a shelf, collecting dust, with no audience to appreciate its glory and its flaws.

Some people follow the team because they always have, others do so because the community of fellow fans has become a type of family; there are many reasons to enjoy football, probably one for each of the 107,000 fans that typically fill Beaver Stadium.

The people that watch only to see the team win, as though each victory were a notch in their own belt, will be the most disappointed and least entertained with the 0-2 start. That group will also be the most vocal online, with negativity, in the hours and days following a loss.

The rest of us, the vast majority, will pick ourselves up off the living room floor, dust off our replica jerseys and get ready for the next battle. We watch for reasons outside of wins and losses, though of course, we enjoy the wins much more.

It was two tough losses to teams with an average ranking in the top-10. The good news is that there are another 7 games on the schedule, with hopes of an eighth in early January.

Let’s enjoy the games, we are lucky to have them.