There was nothing regular about the 2020 NCAA football regular-season. It wasn’t certain just a few months ago whether teams would opt to play or be able to play but Penn State finished all eight of their scheduled games. There could be another couple of games for fans to enjoy if things go well. For now, we can say goodbye to the 2020 regular-season.
A conference slate that seemed like a war of attrition for Penn State, weathering opt-outs and injuries, finished with a 3-game win streak. The first five contests of the ‘regular’ season were a mixed bag. All but one were competitive games that went for losses, which is disappointing but still entertaining.
Now we’re heading to Championship Week. Other than the winner of the Northwestern versus Ohio State game, the rest of the league will have to conjure a purpose for calling it a championship. We are all champions in some way, are we not?
How It Happened
Michigan State led for much of the game but the Lions slowly closed the gap. Trailing 24-18 late in the 3rd quarter, Penn State took the lead with just 2 seconds on the clock. It hadn’t been a sharp game on either side of the field for the Lions to that point but it was clear that the team’s intensity was increasing.
On a critical third down early in the fourth quarter Penn State’s defense got a hold when the team needed one. Having acquired a 1-point lead, it got the ball back to the offense with a chance to extend it.
The charge was led by tackle Hakeem Beamon (51), defensive end Adisa Isaac (20) and Jonathan Sutherland (0) showed up late to pick up half of the sack. Linebacker Lance Dixon (10) got his hand on the quarterback as well. Brent Pry had mostly underclassmen on the field at the time, illustrating the bright future the program has on the defensive side of the ball.
Three plays later Sean Clifford extended the lead to eight points when he hit Parker Washington for a 49-yard touchdown. The collars on the collective shirts of Penn State fans and also perhaps the team began to loosen up a bit with the breathing room on the scoreboard. Following a touch-back from the leg of Jordan Stout, the Lions got the defense off the field three plays later.
On the ensuing punt Jahan Dotson took the ball 81 yards for a punt return touchdown that will be one of the highlights of the season for the team on the field. The play was a great physical achievement exactly when the team needed it, providing what would be the final 15-point cushion for the 39-24 win. If you haven’t seen the play it is readily available on the internet. Rather than showing the return, take a look at the video of the celebration on the sideline directly after the play.
As we enter the holiday season during a year that any living person will not soon forget, it is nice to see the joyous celebration following the play. There is a mass of bodies with smiles that they cannot contain, all fighting to try to touch Dotson and share in the moment. The elation on the faces of the players and coaches is a rare picture these days but hopefully this strange era will soon be behind us.
James Franklin helped carry Dotson off the field. It was the largest and most spontaneous celebration for the players this year during a game, including following each of their three wins.
In a season containing so little of what we enjoy about football, tailgating with fellow fans, packing into a stadium with 107,000 family members, mass group hugs, we can live vicariously through the team’s happiness. We will likely be able to experience these parts of our lives that have been missing when the team comes back next fall.
For now, coach James Franklin and his team await their next destination. Every Big Ten team will play a Championship Week finale but exactly when or where that will be remains to be seen. The Lions will have a chance to get another win and it is possible that the team could play a bowl game and win, fighting off a losing season with a 5-5 finish.
With so much adversity in the world during these past months it is hard to put too much weight on a football win or loss. Winning always feels good but it is not the only important part of the game. Without the community of people that we encounter while at the games or out in public, it isn’t the same experience to support the team. The greatest win will be when we can all celebrate together, hug strangers, and think about nothing else but football on a crisp fall Saturday afternoon.
- The Lions didn’t run the ball very well for most of the day as they had in their previous wins. Outside of Sean Clifford’s 31-yard touchdown run the team rushed for less than 3 yards per carry. Keyvone Lee got a decent amount of carries early in the game and he moved the pile forward as he has all season, but the production fell off after the first quarter. Will Levis led the team with 15 carries, not bad for the backup quarterback.
- Jaquan Brisker played another outstanding game. He has proven to be the team’s best safety this year and it is possible that he will choose to return next season, which would be great for the team and may allow Brisker to show that he has NFL talent. He led the team with 9 tackles, 6 solo, to go with an interception, two quarterback hurries and 1.5 tackles for loss. He wasn’t just around the line of scrimmage, he was producing in the backfield.
- The receivers didn’t have too many opportunities but they took advantage when they could. Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington each made the impact that we have become accustomed to seeing. Brenton Strange looked much smoother once catching the ball than he did earlier in the year, allowing him to get yards after the catch, becoming a threat that defenses will have to account for. KeAndre Lambert-Smith continues to make the plays that he is asked to make, hauling in all 3 of the passes that came his way.