Penn State suffered its third straight loss this past weekend, falling 33-24 on the road to Ohio State.
And they looked good doing it!
A week prior, they fell in NINE OVERTIMES to Illinois, and looked AWFUL.
Two weeks before that, they looked good for a quarter and a half against Iowa, before subsequently looking awful, ultimately stumbling to a loss.
There’s no shaking the idea that Penn State is very much caught in Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde mode. They can go from looking like world beaters to beaten by the world seemingly in the span of just a play or two.
Ultimately, it all stems from the offense, and more specifically, Sean Clifford.
Prior to his injury against Iowa, the Lions looked like a legitimate playoff contender. In his absence - and slow recovery against Illinois - Penn State looks like a barely bowl-eligible team.
More specifically, looking at the game against Ohio State, there’s no denying that the Lions would not have even been in the game were it not for Clifford. Absent a rushing game, Sean put in a game to rival Trace McSorley, throwing 52 (!) times for 35 completions, and 361 yards, including a touchdown to Brenton Strange.
Under Clifford’s guidance, the Lions broke off chunk play after chunk play, routinely moving the ball between the 20s. Penn State’s 24 points is the most Ohio State has given up since week 2 of the season, and were it not for a handful of miscues, could have been more.
But Mr. Hyde reared his ugly head at the worst possible times.
Trailing 10-7 with just under 4:00 left in the half, Clifford moved the Lions from the Penn State 25 to the Ohio State 37 in just three plays. Then disaster struck - on a dropback, Sean was sacked and fumbled the ball, which was immediately picked up by OSU D-lineman Jerron Cage, who promptly returned it 57 yards for a touchdown, making it 17-7 Ohio State.
Dr. Jekyll took over, and the Lions clawed back to make it 17-10 at the half, then immediately tied the game at 17 after the break. Heading into the fourth, Penn State trailed just 27-24.
Cue the return of Mr. Hyde.
With 12:30 left in the game, Penn State took over at its 13 yard line, needing a field goal to tie it up - or a TD to retake the lead. Three plays later, and PSU had moved out to its 28 yard line and was facing second down, when Clifford was rushed and forced into a bad throw . . . which was intercepted, and returned back to the PSU 28. A couple FGs later, and the game settled in to its final margin of 33-24.
Penn State goes as its quarterback does. That’s true of every team, but the Lions have shown that it applies more to them than to most other teams.
Without Sean Clifford, or with the occasional rough play by the signal-caller, and Penn State is Mr. Hyde.
With him, they’re Dr. Jekyll.
Who will we get for the remaining four games of the season? Time will tell, but if it’s more Jekyll than Hyde, we could see Penn State climb back up the rankings, and push for a quality bowl game.
More Hyde than Jekyll? Well, we’re not out of the 5-7 woods yet, friends.