The 2019 season is well in the rear view mirror, and the 2020 (2021?) season is still a long way off. What better time than to wax nostalgic on the season that was, and see just what the best game was on the year?
#13. at Minnesota (Lost 31-26)
Here’s the thing - had the Lions won this game, this would have been wayyy up near the top. But as it was, Minnesota played the plucky underdog role all the way to the bank, picking the Lions apart through the air, and doing just enough on defense to prevent PSU from getting the win. The loss was unexpected, and given the loss just a couple weeks later to OSU, meant that once again Penn State finished the regular season with two losses, snuffing out any discussion of the playoffs. Again. I thought the game itself was exciting, but the result alone means this one has to be put at the bottom of the list.
#12. vs Buffalo (Won 45-13)
You ever look back at a schedule and just completely blank on a game? This was that game for me in 2019. The funny thing is, Buffalo actually had the lead at half time, and Penn State Internet was losing it’s dang mind. Then PSU came alive in the second half and that was all she wrote.
#11. vs Rutgers (Won 27-6)
This was the season finale, and was the Will Levis Show. Rutgers never really challenged the Lions, but at the same time, it was not the dominant beatdown that most expected. The game showed that Levis still had a ways to go to fully grasp the offense, and that Penn State was content just to get to the end of the year.
#10. vs Idaho (Won 79-7)
The Vandals arrived in Happy Valley as the season-opening sacrificial lamb. It was a thorough destruction of an outclassed team, and were it not for a late muffed punt, it’s likely the Lions would have finished with a shutout to start the year.
#9. at Ohio State (Lost 28-17)
Perhaps this game should be lower on the list, but I actually enjoyed the game. OSU was one of the best teams in 2019 - perhaps in the last few years, truthfully - and Penn State gave them everything they had. Sean Clifford went down with an injury, and Levis stepped in bravely. Under his command, the Lions clawed back to make a 21-0 lead shrink down to 21-17. Unfortunately the Lions couldn’t quite complete the upset, but no other team even dreamed of pushing Ohio State the way PSU did to that point in the season. Yet another extremely competitive game between the two big teams in the B1G.
#8. at Michigan State (Won 28-7)
This was just about the most workaday performance I’d seen the Lions put in all season. They did exactly what they were supposed to do - shut down a mediocre offense, and score way more points than needed against an overmatched opponent. This game is as high as it is on the list because James Franklin finally got the Mark Dantonio monkey off his back - for the first time in 2 years, MSU didn’t get the Lions after an emotional game against OSU, and got the loss they should have had two years running.
#7. vs Purdue (Won 35-7)
The bad news was the Lions caught Purdue without their top wide receiver and their top quarterback. Purdue was a really solid team until that point in the season, and it would have been fun to watch the Lions’ defense against an explosive offense earlier in the season. As it was, the Lions went on a sack spree, and ran away with the win.
#6. vs Indiana (Won 34-27)
This win was nowhere near as dominating as other games, but man was it fun. First, it was against most hated rival, and the win helped the Lions hold onto Ye Olde Wooden Boot. Second, it showed that the Lions weren’t just a one-trick pony. The Lions, who for several years struggled to use the run game to put opponents away, milked the clock for 9 minutes in the fourth quarter, putting the kibosh on any Hoosier hijinks. Given that this was the week after the loss to Minnesota, and the week before OSU, it was the pure definition of a trap, and PSU answered beautifully.
#5. vs Pitt (Won 17-10)
This game was played after a lightning delay, and is the last game between the two rivals for the foreseeable future. Was it the 51-6 beatdown of the year before? No. Was it one of the stupidest decisions to go for a field goal from the 1 yard line away from being a tie game in the fourth quarter? Yes. But no matter what, Penn State finished the 4-year stretch on a 3-game win-streak, with bragging rights until the series renews some day in the as yet unknown future. A tough, competitive win over a rival is always a great day at the office.
#4. at Maryland (Won 59-0)
Here’s the thing: coming into this game, Maryland was bananas. It was a night game. On a Friday. Classes were canceled Friday afternoon so students could
get shitfaced get to the game on time. They were not a terrible team for once, though they did have a weird blemish on their record in a loss to Temple. They came out, jacked up, electric atmosphere. And the Lions stomped. their. ass. Literally everything went wrong for Maryland. Their quarterback couldn’t complete a pass to his own team, Clifford couldn’t miss, and at one point Penn State students invaded the Maryland student section, earning the student section of the week award. The embarrassment was as complete as the destruction was total. It was GLORIOUS.
#3. vs Memphis (Won 53-39)
The Cotton Bowl was everything you would want from a post season game. A New Year’s Six game against a solid, if beatable opponent. A coming out party for Journey Brown and the run game. An exclamation point on Micah Parson’s season as one of the best linebackers the Lions have ever had. It was just an all around fun game, and given some of the malaise following the Minnesota loss, it felt like a very hard-earned cherry on the 2019 season.
#2. at Iowa (Won 17-12)
Once again, Iowa pulled a superior opponent down into the mud with them. The Lions’ offense played in fits and spurts, and was outgained by the Hawkeyes on the day. But PSU played some of its best bend-but-don’t-break defense all season, and as a result had a 17-6 lead late in the fourth quarter. Then, somehow, Iowa scored a long TD to make it 17-12, and suddenly flashbacks to 2008 played in everyone’s head. Unfortunately for Iowa, no amount of Kinnick Voodoo could help them with their comeback, and the Lions sealed the most impressive road win of their season.
#1. vs Michigan (Won 28-21)
The pinnacle. The apex. The zenith. The high water mark of the season. Penn State hosted Michigan in the White Out, and took it to the Wolverines. In the first 22:22 of game play, PSU built a 21-0 lead, and put the game on cruise control. Unfortunately, they just couldn’t put away a pesky Michigan team. A couple of touchdown runs brought the game to 21-14 with a little over a minute to go in the third. Then it happened. KJ Hamler snagged the ensuing kickoff, caught a couple blocks, and raced down the left sideline for a 28-14 lead, halting the Michigan momentum. Only, one of the most ticky tack block in the back penalties called it back, and breathed life into the Wolverines.
Penn State responded by marching to midfield, then Sean Clifford uncorked a 53-yard touchdown pass to KJ Hamler. Michigan refused to go away, coming within a dropped pass of tying the game at 28, but with 1:51 left in the game, facing 3rd and 3 at their own 10 yard line, and Michigan absolutely selling out to stop the run, James Franklin handed the ball off to Hamler, all 5’9”, 178 pounds of him, and had him smash through the Michigan defense for the game-clinching first down. With the win, the Lions cemented their place in the national discussion for 2019, even after the loss to Minnesota. It was perhaps this win that kept them in the top 10, and in a New Year’s Six bowl, as their domination through 22:22 of game play was as thorough a beatdown as they put together all season.
Here’s hoping we can have some more of that in 2020!