As Indiana led 10-0 at the end of the first quarter, we were beginning to wonder if the Penn State team had given up on the season. Perhaps the loss to Ohio State was such a deflation that they just couldn’t get excited about this game. Or perhaps all the criticisms by fans after last week’s loss had gotten to them.
Perhaps the emptiest student section of the season was also discouraging – it was certainly embarrassing for Senior Day. Only the senior section was nearly full at the start of the game. This was their last home game, and the seniors were going to be there for Senior Day - at least most of them. My camera recorded that the student section never was full. With about 10 minutes remaining in the first half, it was only nearly full.
Perhaps the offense and special teams were also just trying too hard to make things happen. They took the brunt of last week’s loss. When a team tries too hard, mistakes happen. And we made plenty of mistakes.
Indiana’s first drive was a mistake-free series of run and pass plays that took five minutes off the clock. But our defense tightened up in the red zone and held them to a field goal. Their second drive was the result of a badly thrown pass by Darryl Clark, intercepted by Indiana’s Matt Mayberry. So they had a short field for their first touchdown, starting at the Penn State 43 yard line. 6 plays later, the score is 10-0.
On Penn State’s next possession, Darryl Clark leads the team 56 yards down the field only to throw another interception, this time caught by Indiana’s Nick Polk. Then Indiana goes three and out. Punts the ball. Drew Astorino returns the ball 4 yards but Indiana’s Chris Hagerup forces a fumble and Indiana recovers it.
Each team has a possession that stalls. Then Penn State gets a break when an Indiana player interferes with a punt, causing Penn State to take over at the PSU 39 yard line. 8 plays and 45 yards later, Penn State is able to make a field goal. Indiana's defense stopped us in the red zone. The score is now 10-3.
Indiana goes 3 and out. They punt it 38 yards to Graham Zug, who fumbles the ball. Indiana’s Trea Burgess recovers it on the PSU 29 yard line. But Indiana’s touchdown drive stalls, and the defense holds them to a 47-yard field goal attempt. Nick Freeland misses it.
The score is still 10-3 with 59 seconds left in the second half. Penn State has thrown two interceptions and lost two fumbles.
This has been a very ugly half of football. We are thinking at this point that we’re lucky to be down by only 7 points. That what Darryl Clark should do is end the half quickly, take two knees, go to the locker room, and talk it over. That the last thing we can afford is another mistake creating another opportunity for Indiana to score.
But the Penn State offense had other ideas. After two incomplete passes, Clark completes an 18-yard pass to Brett Brackett. We’re on the 48-yard line. Then backup freshman running back Curtis Drake scrambles for 26 yards to the Indiana 26. Add on a face-mask penalty by Indiana and we’re at the Indiana 13 yard-line.
Darryl Clark throws a touchdown pass to Evan Royster. The score is now 10-10 with 6 seconds left in the half.
Wow. What a strange half of football, probably the strangest we’ve ever seen. A miserable performance by Penn State's offense and special teams, but the score is tied. We had four turnovers but the game is even. How can that be?
Credit the defense. They were the only bright spot in the first half. Linebackers Sean Lee and Navarro Bowman in particular. They made a lot of stops. The defense made sure that Indiana couldn’t capitalize on all our mistakes. Credit also that critical face-mask penalty at the end of the second half. Without that mistake, Penn State’s touchdown drive might have stalled. We were running out of time.
Penn State had won the toss, so had the first possession of the second half. And it started out in a shaky way. Jerome Hayes returned the kickoff 35 yards to the PSU 45-yard line, but Indiana’s Matt Ernest forced a fumble. Fortunately this one was recovered by Penn State! Whew. We got lucky.
A ten-play, 38 yard drive wound up in a missed field goal. Now Terry and I were upset. Indiana was able to stop us in the red zone on our first drive of the second half, and we were still making mistakes. Not good.
Credit the defense again. On Indiana’s next possession, they drove to the Penn State 28-yard line. Ben Chappell throws a pass that is intercepted by Navorro Bowman, who runs 73 yards for a Penn State touchdown. It was certainly the play of the day! And with 6:50 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Penn State is finally ahead, 17-10.
The defense holds Indiana to a 3-and-out. Then the Penn State offense finally gets into a rhythm. Darryl Clark leads the offense on a 14-play, 73-yard drive for another touchdown. Indiana then has a 12-play, 54-yard drive but is held by our defense to a field goal. The score, with 10:37 left in the fourth quarter, is 24-13.
Penn State completes another long touchdown drive, the score is 31-13 with 4:08 to go in the game. Indiana manages one more touchdown before the game is over, with a final score of 31-20.
The Penn State-Indiana game was in some ways typical of our season. This Penn State team has found a way to win nine times. We’ve lost only twice. But against Big Ten competition, especially, our wins have been at times sloppy if not downright ugly wins.
Next week against Michigan State, Penn State can’t afford to be sloppy or ugly. Spartan Stadium is a tough environment on a chilly November late afternoon. Michigan State is now bowl-eligible and will be playing for the best spot they can get. Penn State will be as well.
Penn State has to play a solid four quarters. We can’t rely on a series of big plays in the second half to pull out the game. The offense can't afford again to wait until the middle of the third quarter to get its act together. It’s time for Penn State to play a solid first half and show from the beginning what the offense is capable of doing. And then not have a let down in the second half. It's November. Mistakes should be minimal. We need to execute consistently to win next week's game. Michigan State has a lot of stake in this game, and so do we.
Of course, even if it's an ugly win, I'll take it. As long as we win!
Go Penn State! Beat the Spartans!