Sobering Start for Penn State

“Don’t put the game in the hands of the officials”–especially not in the hands of the Big Ten replay officials.

There are a lot of reasons for possibly why the first half was such a disaster for the Nittany Lions. Penn State is breaking in a new offensive coordinator in Kirk Ciarrocca with limited live reps due to COVID-19. The Nittany Lions lost their starting running back, Journey Brown, before the game even started due to an undisclosed medical concern and then lost their backup, Noah Cain, just a handful of plays into the game.

After barreling down the field in the open possession and finding a wide-open Pat Freiermuth in the end zone things seemed as they should for the Nittany Lions.

They wouldn’t be.

The remaining first half was one of the worst offensive and special teams performances I have seen in a long time by the Nittany Lions.

Penn State managed just 107 yards the rest of the first half, 66 of which came on a 12 play drive that ended with backup QB Will Levis fumbling it on Indiana’s 9 yard line. Penn State finished 3-6 in the red zone. But the woes didn’t stop with just a stalling offense, if that was the only issue I believe the Penn State defense would have been able to outlast the Hoosiers’ offense. Instead second year starter, Sean Clifford provided a couple gifts in the form of interceptions.

The first interception came on a screen pass he appeared to force, but I still don’t really understand how he threw it that poorly. The second came on a pass that was a foot over the outstretched arm of Pat Freiermuth–a difficult target to overthrow. It should be noted that the drive started on Penn State’s five yard line due to Lamont Wade bobbling the kickoff. The combined the two mistakes ended up costing Penn State 10 points.

Then to add salt in the wound, linebacker Ellis Brooks forced a fumble that was recovered by Lamont Wade with two ticks left on the clock. A chip shot field goal was then missed by Jake Pinegar who hit 92% of his field goals last season.

Things didn’t get that much better in the third quarter, and eventually the mistakes would add up in the fourth. Devyn Ford was allowed to score in order for Indiana to get the ball back down by only 8. Head Coach James Franklin said they talked about the situation on the sideline. The plan was to get as much as they could and get down. Then presumably kneel out the rest of the time remaining. Instead, the Hoosier offense, which hadn’t mustered very much against a stout defense, was aided by two penalties on their way to a TD and the 2 pt conversion.

Even then, Indiana failed to squib kick the ensuing kickoff and Penn State had the ball at Indiana’s 40 yard line with 8 seconds left with inches to go for a first down. They elected not to run another player to get their long distance specialist, Jordan Stout a smidge closer. A smidge is all he would have needed as his 57 yd attempt was inches short of the cross bar.

You know what happened after regulation. Whether you agree with the final call or not, the game was clearly not decided on that final play. Instead it was decided on countless other mistakes by both the coaches and players alike.

It’s a sobering start for a Penn State team that might have more talent than any previous team in Franklin’s tenure. It’s also a reminder that you cannot expect to beat opponents just because you are more talented than them. Mistakes, in this case, a lot of mistakes eventually add up.

Perhaps it’s an important lesson for a team that will need to commit fewer mistakes next week when they host the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Photo by Kami Brand.

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