If you chalk the offensive output in the season opener against Wisconsin to things like it being the first game of the season, Sean Clifford being on his third offensive coordinator in as many years, the team playing on the road in a stadium full of fans for the first time in two years, and Wisconsin’s defense actually being pretty good*, then no one would argue that the 16 points the Nittany Lions scored on September 4 were a cause for concern. This is especially true given the fears of the offense not making any progress in 2021.
In game five, however, it wouldn’t be too unrealistic to wonder where the offense went. The 24 points scored were the fewest since that opening game against Wisconsin. The offense seemed to be off, with receivers dropping passes, Clifford throwing errant passes, and the offense looking more like the output of last season than the efficient machine that they are this year.
What wasn’t disappointing to see, however, was a rushing attack that didn’t look dead in the water all game long, with Keyvone Lee leading the way with 74 yards on eight carries. As a team, the Lions rushed for five yards a carry. That output matches the five yards a carry in the Ball State game. Indiana is not the Indiana of last season, but their defense is still pretty effective, so this is good to see.
Indiana’s offense has left a lot to be desired this season, and their futility seemed to come to a boiling point in this game, where Michael Penix Jr. was able to get nothing done, going 10 for 22 in the game. The Hoosiers would be shut out for the first time since 2000, in a game where it never really looked like they would threaten to make this a game.
If there was a time for the offense to have an “off night”, this was it: The defense played lights out, as they had all season, Indiana couldn’t do anything themselves, and the offense used all four quarters to build enough of a cushion to put this one away. That’s what you like to see.
Things didn’t look good to start the game, as #PuntWeek was in full display in the first three possessions. While Penn State did score in the fourth possession of the game, there was the distinct possibility that Bad Clifford™ was about to show up, and flashbacks to 2020 suddenly came rushing to people’s heads as Clifford threw an interception, the first one you could say was his own fault, deep in the Lions side of the field. Luckily for the Lions, Indiana would turn the ball over on downs shortly after starting the drive at the Penn State 13.
The only other score of the half came in a drive that started in the first quarter, and led to another Clifford-to-Dotson connection, extending Jahan Dotson’s streak with a touchdown grab to seven. This particular grab would also tie the record set by Todd Blackledge-to-Kenny Jackson, with 17 touchdowns between the two. An interception by Indiana and a litany of punts would spell the rest of the half.
Remember that record from before? Clifford and Dotson would break that record in the first scoring drive of the third quarter, as the nine-play, 61-yard drive would culminate in a 30 yard pass from Clifford, and Dotson would do the rest.
I don’t blame Tom Allen for choosing to opt for a field goal late in the third quarter, as the threat of a shutout was real, and every opportunity Indiana had to score had been sniffed out by the Nittany Lions. Unfortunately for Allen, Arnold Ebiketie had other plans. Ebiketie blocked his second field goal of the season, and the block would ensure that Indiana would not score the rest of the way.
After tacking on a field goal to really put the game away, the quiet fourth quarter saw some time for the backups come in for the game. Ta’Quan Roberson would finish out the game, with John Lovett taking the bulks of the carries to run out the clock.
Stats and Storylines
199 - Rushing yards for Penn State in the game. This is the most since rushing for 240 against Ball State. They’re going to need to keep running the ball if they want to keep winning.
51.5 - Clifford’s completion percentage in the game. This is the lowest completion percentage of the season. Clifford completed 68.5% of his passes in last season’s game against Indiana.
0 - This is the first time Penn Stat has held Indiana to zero points in a game, and the first time Indiana has been held to zero points since 2000.
Quality Wins - People were quick to point out how Auburn struggled with Georgia State and Wisconsin lost to Notre Dame last week. They may still harp on Wisconsin, but the Auburn criticism will have to wait another week.
Showdown - The two best teams in the Big Ten to date will face each other in a game to see which one gets the moniker for the next week. Should be a great game on Saturday.
*In Wisconsin’s defense, they’ve been in the game in all three of their losses late into the game, but a comedy of errors have derailed each one.