In the first test, Penn State fell to (now #1) Ohio State 20-12, in a game that was eminently frustrating. The defense showed out, a few penalties excepted, and held OSU to just 20 points, their second-lowest production of the season. In fact, late into the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes had scored just 13 points, to Penn State’s 6.
Therein lies the rub: the offense did not travel to Columbus that day.
Through a combination of conservative play calling, and even more conservative check downs in the passing game, OSU effectively bottled up the possession-style, dink-and-dunk offense that Penn State prefers (preferred?) to run. They were so effective at it, in fact, that the Lions converted just 1 of 16 third down conversions in the game, and were 0 of 15 until the final, garbage time drive.
This loss was of course demoralizing, and that deflation carried through to the next game against Indiana. A potentially better-than-their-record-would-have-you-believe team, Indiana again stymied the Penn State offense, and somehow took advantage of a previously stout Penn State defense. Things looked the bleakest when Drew Allar threw the first interception of his career in the fourth quarter, leading Indiana to tie the game at 24. After that? The offense got a huge, explosive passing TD on the next drive, and the defense forced a safety, securing a 33-24 victory.
A week later, and that fourth quarter resurgence seemed to carry through to the game against Maryland, which was an absolute mollywhopping. The offense was diverse, creative, and seemingly confident in itself for the first time in what seemed like weeks, and put together the best performance it had since the win over Iowa in week 4 of the season. The defense was electric, causing multiple turnovers, and limiting an otherwise solid Terrapin offense to just 15 points. The complementary football that emerged late in the fourth quarter against Indiana carried over to Maryland, resulting in a 51-15 final score. The Lions seem to have rediscovered their swagger.
So. Can that momentum carry over to the game this weekend against Michigan?
Last year, the defense played poorly, to put it mildly, and the offense was forced to try to make up for things on their own. That led to turnovers, and ultimately a rout. Can the defense play more within itself this year? Will the offense realize that excessively conservative play calling - and play on the field - is not the best way to run its system, and instead use some more creativity, deep shots, and spontaneity from Drew Allar?
I’d like to think yes, and am actually cautiously optimistic about the game. Can Penn State win? Yes. Will they?
If momentum is a thing, the Lions seem to have rediscovered quite a bit of it at just the right time.