Under James Franklin, Penn State has had this nasty propensity to follow up its biggest games of the season with clunkers the following game, oftentimes losing the contest:
- In 2014, the Nittany Lions followed up the double-overtime thriller against Ohio State by losing at home to Maryland.
- In 2015, the Lions nearly lost to Maryland after getting its doors blown off at Ohio State.
- In 2016, one of the few seasons where the Lions do not have two consecutive losses, they still nearly gave the game away to Temple after a heartbreaker at Pitt.
- 2017 saw Penn State’s playoff hopes evaporate when they followed up another heartbreaker to Ohio State (see the theme yet?) by playing a clunker against Michigan State.
- You won’t believe what happened in 2018! Penn State followed up a heartbreaker against Ohio State by playing a clunker against Michigan State, losing the game.
- Like 2016, Penn State didn’t have consecutive losses in 2019, but a big game at Minnesota, where both teams came into the contest undefeated, was followed up by needing a fourth-quarter drive to stave off Indiana. The inevitable loss to Ohio State the following week knocked Penn State out of a playoff spot yet again.
- Let’s not recount 2020 or 2021 again. Those two we’ve regurgitated to exhaustion.
There are plenty of reasons why the Lions have been unable to play consistently at the level one thinks they should play over the years. Talent, depth, coaching, you name it, the Lions have simply been unable to shake off a loss quickly enough to not affect their play in subsequent games.
This year seems to be different. The Nittany Lions have now lost two games, one where one could argue they should have won, against the familiar opponent they lose heartbreakers to, and managed to come out guns blazing in their next contest. Two weeks ago, Penn State suffocated Minnesota on its way to a 28-point win under Whiteout conditions. On Saturday, the Lions followed up another disappointing loss with another suffocation, this time of Indiana, where, shortly after the first quarter, it became quite clear the Lions were not going to struggle for much of the game.
Like the Minnesota game, Sean Clifford got his interception out of the way, then went on to play a clean game, going 15 of 23 for 229 yards. He would have also had a touchdown through the air, but Theo Johnson dropped the gimme ball at the 5-yard line.
If there was any doubt that Penn State has two star at running back this season, those doubts should have been thoroughly put to rest, as Katron Allen had three touchdowns on the ground to go along with his 86 yards rushing. Nicholas Singleton tacked the fourth touchdown and chipped in another 73 yards, to combine for another game where the backs rushed for more than 100 yards. It almost seems like a generation ago when Penn State was unable to run for 100 yards as a team, and now they have two players who could go off on their own, but combined, they have created a monster that only the best teams in the nation can hope to stop.
All in all, this was the kind of game we want to see from the Nittany Lions. When facing opponents with a clear talent deficiency, show that the disappointment of a loss won’t have an effect on the next game(s). Show that, like Michigan, you are ready to take the step of “clear third in the division,” with the hopes of staying there, and moving into the upper echelon of the conference as the talent and depth continues to level out as needed.
Avoiding losses to the lesser teams, and continuing to stay competitive with the top teams, is how you go from “good” to “elite.” Now go do it three more times.
Stats and storylines
159 - The aforementioned combined rushing yardage for the Penn State freshmen. The Lions will have these backs for at least two more years. Get excited!
Allar Time - Penn State has made it abundantly clear that it’s not going to mess with what’s working for them, especially now that hopes of a playoff spot are off the table. That doesn’t mean Allar won’t see the field. In fact, he saw most of the second half, and looked good! With the opponents Penn State has left on the schedule, the Lions should be able to give Allar plenty of time as the season closes out. The future does indeed look bright!
50 - Jake Pinegar had a career long field goal of 50 yards in the game. Way to go, Jake!
6 - Penn State sacks on the evening. On a day where the Lions were playing backups at almost every spot on the offensive line, it was the Hoosiers who couldn’t keep defenders off their quarterback.