Another week, another “out.” On Saturday, Beaver Stadium was Striped Out as the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Indiana Hoosiers engaged in a contest of American football
in State College University Park, Pennsylvania. The Nittany Lions emerged victorious, 24-0. I have several thoughts, which are set forth randomly below.
1. “Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night.”
2. It’s the truest lyric the Boss ever wrote.
3. The idea that playing Indiana warrants a primetime kickoff and an “out” of any kind at Beaver Stadium is foreign. For as long as I can recall, Indiana has ranged anywhere from abject disaster to modestly successful point scorer. That’s hardly “Auburn traveling north for an away game for the first time in 70 years” territory.
4. The fact that everyone in college football is constantly reminding us of that play at the end of the last year’s game doesn’t hurt, though.
5. In truth, this Stripe Out was much more akin to the 2008 Illinois game. That occurred a similar time of year and featured a formerly downtrodden team who had a successful season the year prior, helmed by a returning star quarterback.
6. 2008 didn’t go all that well for the Illini and Juice Williams, and I’m not certain that 2021 is going to be any better for Indiana and Michael Penix, Jr.
7. Sic transit gloria mundi, Hoosiers. It’s karma, since #PenixWasShort.
8. This was my first time back in Beaver Stadium since 2019, and the first time back in any stadium of any kind since then too. It’s been a long, long, long, long, long two years.
9. So when the schedule came out and we looked at games we could plausibly get to, Indiana was a great choice. This was especially true with two kids, since there was virtually no way that this would be a 7:30 p.m. kick. Right?
11. Man plans, God laughs. But despite the universe conspiring against us, we made the sojourn west to State College with a 4 year old and 6 month old in tow.
12. You know what? It was magical.
13. You don’t realize how much you miss these things until you don’t have them anymore. You’ll hear lots of arguments out there about football attendance and how much better the “experience” is to watch from your comfortable couch on your fancy TV, where the beer and food is cheaper and better than it ever could be in the stadium. And I’m here to tell you that’s a big bunch of nonsense. Nothing can replicate the atmosphere of a night like that in Beaver Stadium, unless you’re telling me it’s another college football game with another passionate fan base.
14. Seeing the world through your kids’ eyes is a real phenomenon, and an event like this really crystalizes it. Cooper knows about Penn State and cheers for Penn State, but didn’t remember being in that stadium. He didn’t remember the people or the music or the colors or the fireworks or the game.
15. He will now. Forever. He spent the entire first half wide-eyed, searching for the Goodyear Blimp and screaming his lungs out on third down.
16. And so it turns out it really doesn’t matter if it’s Indiana on the other side of a Stripe Out or a late kick. It’s special all the same.
17. Some of this game was an oddity. There was basically never a moment where it felt like Penn State lost control. It was a dominant performance on both sides of the ball.
18. And yet, it seemed like it was 14-0 basically forever. If you look at the box score, it basically was. From the beginning of the second quarter through the last few minutes of the 3rd, these teams were in a stalemate at 14-0. But you’d never know that just from the eye test.
19. In some ways, this game felt very experimental. Once Penn State was up two touchdowns and had put together a goal line stand, it looked like the Nittany Lions were intent on working out the kinks.
20. For instance, it’s very clear that Penn State’s offense was intent on running the football. I’m not clear if that was in the game plan or whether it was in response to the Hoosiers’ defensive calls, but the structure of the play calling looked very different this week than it has previously.
21. There’s not much more to say about Jahan Dotson than has already been said. He’s reached the top level of Penn State receivers all time, and now he’s looking to put himself on the Saquon Barkley/Allen Robinson level – the one where they structure whole offenses around you because you’re so dominant.
22. Clifford looked perfectly fine. A few dropped balls and one bad pass aside, the passing offense still works. His contributions on the ground this week balanced out the relatively modest day through the air.
23. We have multiple viable running backs, but it’s hard to say that one is going to break out at some point. They each bring something different and useful to the table, but none of them have shown themselves to be the total package.
24. It’d be helpful for them to get more consistent play upfront. By and large, the line is keeping Clifford upright, which is critical. But the run blocking has been subpar, and that’s been a team effort.
25. When it goes wrong, though, it goes really wrong. I’ve seen some handwringing about Noah Cain’s lack of production, and that’s warranted. Of course, on two of the plays where he lost yardage on Saturday, Eric Wilson and Juice Scruggs looked like matadors. Cain was basically hit within half a second of the handoff.
26. Not all of these plays lose yardage. In some cases, though, getting the necessary blocking could spring a big play. Take, for instance, the fake screen and draw up the middle that Clifford ran early. That play gained about 4 yards, which is a statistical success. On the other hand, Clifford could have been sprung for a 10+ yard gain, but for Wilson, as the pulling guard, getting beat by a defender.
27. A similar issue happened on one of the John Lovett carries that ended with a loss. On the play in question, Wilson looks to block linebacker Micah McFadden, but he’s shed quickly. Lovett was looking to get around the end, but McFadden met him before he could turn upfield.
28. I don’t mean to pick on Wilson. This happened with several linemen on Saturday night, including Juice Scruggs. All this is to say, though, that the success of the running game is a confluence of factors.
29. When it goes right, though, it really goes right. On Keyvone Lee’s big run in the 2nd quarter, Wilson pulls around to his right, blocks his defender, Lee gets north-south quickly and before you know it, it’s a 44-yard gain.
30. Lee brings something to the table that none of the other backs have. Lovett has the top end speed, and he’s much smoother than the others. Cain leans forward and picks up little bits of extra yardage when nothing is there. Ford has the athleticism and looks solid in the passing game. But Lee has the kind of pop that you want to see. He has the capacity to explode through the hole and when he’s decisive, he gets everything there is.
31. Consistency is big for the ground game. There were encouraging signs of life, and I’m hopeful we’ll see more of it the rest of the way.
32. You have to appreciate how suffocating this defense is. The secondary just makes play after play after play, the backers clean up the middle, and the line gets the pressure it needs.
33. Jack Tuttle just sounds like an Indiana quarterback, but there was just no chance that he was going to do anything of note if Penix couldn’t get the train moving.
34. You can always find things to work on, and this week is no different. Converting short yardage was difficult. They lost coverage on Peyton Hendershot and Penix threw a perfect ball down the seam. Clifford made some big-time throws (that 4th down conversion – man, oh man), but that interception was not ideal.
35. Ultimately, they got the job done.
36. The 2021 Indiana Game – you ain’t a beauty, but hey, you’re alright.
37. On to Iowa City.
38. We are…