After a three-and-out that saw Sean Clifford fired three straight incompletions, Penn State punted the ball back to Purdue with 4:28 remaining in the game and trailing 31-28. For the Boilermakers, this was a golden opportunity for them to burn some clock and force PSU to use its two remaining timeouts in order to have a chance to even get the ball back one more time.
Instead of trying to feed the rock to their running back King Doerue, who was having a decent night at that point, having scored a touchdown earlier in the second half, Jeff Brohm elected to have his prized quarterback Aidan O’Connell air it out in order to move the chains. It seemed to be working initially, when O’Connell on a critical 3rd and 9 situation found his new favorite target Charlie “Chuck Sizzle” Jones for a first down. After handing it off to Doerue for a decent four-yard gain on the ensuing play, Brohm opted to air it out again on 2nd and 6. O’Connell was forced out of the pocket, scrambling, looking for anybody who was open and fired one towards his tight end Payne Durham, who made an incredible diving catch to move the chains...that is, until instant replay overturned what was clearly an incompletion, putting Purdue in a 3rd and 6 situation with 2:36 left.
O’Connell saw T.J. Sheffield streaking down the left sideline and lofted a beauty of a pass that looked like it was going to land right in Sheffield’s hands and give the Boilers a fresh set of downs, putting PSU further on the ropes. Instead, Daequan Hardy showed incredible closing speed to get a hand in there and deflect away the pass, as you can see in the clip below.
You all know how the rest of the story goes: Purdue punts the ball back to Penn State and Sean Clifford engineers an eight-play 80-yard drive that ends with him finding Keyvone Lee in the end zone on a wheel route, making up for the inexplicable pick-six that he threw earlier in the fourth quarter, which necessitated such heroics to begin with.
If Hardy is a split second too late and Sheffield comes down with the catch, it’s hard to say what would’ve transpired after that, but it would’ve been awfully dicey for PSU. Even if Purdue failed to run the clock down, at the very least, they could’ve ran with King Doerue a couple of times and forced PSU to start burning their timeouts. They also could’ve gotten into field goal range and kicked a late field goal to force PSU to have to finish in the end zone with less than a minute to go.
Thankfully, we don’t have to ponder such horrible “What Ifs” because Daequan Hardy made one of the most clutch plays of the game. Clutch enough to be this week’s turning point.