Penn State scored 17 points in the game’s last four minutes, after a rather sluggish afternoon up until that point.
Yes, the Nittany Lion offense as a unit came alive in the second half, but Penn State as a team didn’t finish off the Hoosiers until those waning minutes.
A win is a win, though, and the Nittany Lions (8-2, 6-1 Big Ten) will certainly take it.
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▪ Indiana was 0 for 2 on fourth down, and both stops by Penn State were monumental.
First, the Hoosiers faced a 4th-and-goal at the Penn State 1-yard line early in the second half. The Nittany Lions and Hoosiers were tied at halftime, and Indiana already used a field goal to take a 17-14 on its first drive of the third quarter.
On their second drive of the period, the Hoosiers had a chance to make it 24-14. Penn State linebacker Brandon Smith denied Indiana a fourth-down touchdown, though, batting away Richard Lagow’s pass.
Sure enough, the Hoosiers scored a touchdown on their next drive, but the Nittany Lions needed a spark.
The second fourth-down stop all but clinched the game. Down 35-31 with less than three minutes left in regulation, Indiana decided to go for it on 4th-and-3 at its own 22-yard line.
But Penn State halted their progress again, forcing an incompletion.
The defense might’ve allowed 454 yards, but it came up huge on two critical occasions.
▪ As Jim Carrey’s character in “Bruce Almighty” said so eloquently, “B-e-a-utiful.”
A flea flicker is one of those plays, like a Statue of Liberty or halfback pass, that can go terribly wrong or work to perfection. Saturday’s example was the latter.
Trailing 24-21 near the start of the fourth quarter, Saquon Barkley, who was stuffed time after time, secured a handoff from quarterback Trace McSorley and he felt the pressure.
“When I got the ball I saw the linebackers collapse so fast,” Barkley recalled.
Instead of driving up the gut, Barkley pitched it back to McSorley. The redshirt sophomore signal-caller had all the time in the world to set his feet and throw, hitting a wide-open DaeSean Hamilton down the middle of the field.
The connection went for 54 yards down to Indiana’s 3-yard line.
The flea flicker is something everyone has attempted once or twice ... in video games.
The play was practiced the week leading up to Indiana, and McSorley expected to use it, too.
“(Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead) is not going to leave one of those on the call sheet,” McSorley said. “We were ready for it.”
And the Hoosiers, apparently, were not.
▪ What was up with that Irvin Charles kickoff return? Freshman running back Miles Sanders has done well this season returning kicks, including a game-opening 31-yard return, but early in the second quarter Penn State sent out Charles, a redshirt freshman wideout, to return Indiana’s kickoff after tying the game 7-7.
It did not go well, as Charles dropped the ball, picked it back up, and made it out to only the 11-yard line.
He wasn’t back to return for the rest of the game, understandably so.
▪ Injuries, injuries and more injuries. The list of injured Penn State offensive linemen is now up to four (Andrew Nelson, Brendan Mahon, Paris Palmer, Connor McGovern).
▪ What’s better than good? Great? Not even that does Saturday night justice for the Penn State dreamers. For those fans, their wishful thinking after the Nittany Lions upset then-No. 2 Ohio State is becoming closer and closer to reality.
In case you somehow missed it, Michigan lost to Iowa on Saturday night — and bedlam at Kinnick Stadium opens several possibilities for Penn State.
The Big Ten Championship? The Nittany Lions are in, if Ohio State beats Michigan and Penn State wins out (at Rutgers, vs. Michigan State).
The Rose Bowl? A real possibility, based on end-of-season rankings.
The College Football Playoff? Let’s slow down a bit, but the Nittany Lions are certainly alive in the hunt for a spot in the four-team bracket.
If the Nittany Lions win out — and they will be favored against the Scarlet Knights and Spartans — a Cotton or Orange Bowl appearance should be the floor for a 10-2 Penn State team.
That’s wild to even conceive considering where the Nittany Lions were at the end of September.
But all of this is really happening, believe it or not. Crazy, crazy stuff.