Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Penn State continued its yearly tradition of laying an egg in big games, as the Nittany Lions fell to the Minnesota Golden Gophers by a score of 31-26. Before I unleash on the garbage performance Penn State put in on Saturday, I have to give a lot of credit to Minnesota. I said Tanner Morgan wouldn’t win this game for the Gophers, I was wrong. I doubted Minnesota’s ability to diversify their offense by throwing the ball, I was wrong. I wrote off an undefeated, top-ranked Minnesota team, and I was wrong. So all credit to PJ Fleck and Minnesota, congratulations and hopefully this Cinderella season continues.
Now to the Nittany Lions. I said Sean Clifford’s pre bye week performance vs. Michigan State was his best one yet and this weekend was the complete opposite. He looked antsy in the pocket, under-threw the ball on at least half of his passes, and made multiple poor decisions which resulted in three turnovers. He did throw for over 300 yards, but it sure didn’t feel like that. Clifford has set the bar high with performances this season and it has made us easily forget that he’s still a first-year starter. Even though he deserves the benefit of the doubt, it’s disappointing to see a quarterback on an upward trend fall back down real quick.
Alongside Clifford’s bad performance, the majority of the offense also followed suit. Penn State’s big-play guys like KJ Hamler and Pat Friermuth still performed. Journey Brown also had his best game of the season and made a good case on why he should get as many, if not more, touches as Noah Cain. But outside of them, the receiving core couldn’t catch a ball for their lives. I don’t blame Clifford for only targeting a selected few because the rest of them can’t catch. I wanted Clifford to find secondary receiving options in this game, but it doesn’t seem like anyone is capable of stepping into that role. I was most disappointed in Justin Shorter, who has still not lived up to his five star potential. Also, Ricky Rahne had one of the worst play calling games I’ve ever seen from him. Penn State’s offense was unstoppable from 20 yard line to 20 yard line and abysmal inside the red zone. James Franklin loves loyalty, but Rahne’s seat better be burning up under him because this isn’t the first time we’ve seen something like this.
The usually dominant Penn State defense was torched during this game, especially through the air. Tanner Morgan was nearly perfect on the day and Rashod Bateman had over 200 yards alone. If there was any weakness on this Penn State defense, it was expected to be the secondary, but no one could have predicted that they would be this bad. Tariq Castro-Fields was atrocious and other veterans like John Reid and Garett Taylor made uncharacteristic mistakes that cost Penn State in this game.
Penn State was lucky to have a chance to win this game. They got played off the field on both sides of the ball. I’ve alluded that this Penn State team has been playing with house money at times and they finally went bust this weekend. Penn State’s path to the playoff was always going to go through Columbus, but this loss took away any margin of error Penn State might have had. It sucks, but the show must go on. We need to remember all is not lost and we need to keep chugging along. It’s time to go 1-0 this week. Let’s take a look at the Nittany Lions’ opponent for this weekend, the Hoosiers from the University of Indiana.
At First Glance…
The Hoosiers have had a great season by their standards so far, sitting at a 7-2 record, which is good for 3rd in the Big Ten East. Similar to Minnesota, Indiana has beaten all teams you expect them to beat. Outside of their victories against Maryland and Nebraska, every other victory they’ve had has been relatively comfortable. Their other victories have come against Ball State, East Illinois, UConn, Rutgers, and Northwestern.
Indiana’s two losses have come against generally superior opponents in Ohio State and Michigan State. There’s not much anyone can do about the Buckeyes, but the loss against Michigan State is disappointing considering the down year that the Spartans have had so far. Indiana is coming into this game vs. the Nittany Lions ranked No. 25 in the AP Poll and possibly will slip into the College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday.
A Deeper Look…
The big story of the Indiana offense this season has been the emergence of freshman quarterback Micheal Penix Jr. The redshirt freshman from Tampa, Florida has accounted for 10 touchdowns and 4 interceptions on the season. But, sadly for Indiana, Penix Jr. suffered a season-ending injury against Northwestern, meaning Penn State will face a familiar foe in Peyton Ramsey. The junior play caller lost the quarterback battle to Penix Jr. before the season but has still seen a decent amount of action this season. Ramsey has accounted for 1,302 yards on the season, tallying up 9 touchdowns and only throwing 3 interceptions. Even though Penix Jr. is a better dual-threat quarterback, Ramsey is experienced and has also proved he can make plays with his legs. Ramsey’s experience will be crucial for Indiana as they come up against a very talented Penn State front seven.
Indiana’s main feature back comes in the form of Stevie Scott III. The sophomore from Syracuse, New York leads the team in rushing by far. He has run the ball 148 times, for 737 yards, and nine touchdowns. He’s on a mission to match the great numbers he put up last year, where he ran for over 1,000 yards. Indiana has spread the wealth through the air so far this season. Indiana’s main receiver this season has been junior Whop Philyor. He leads the Hoosiers with 59 catches for 813 yards and three touchdowns. Indiana’s big-play receiving threat comes from tight end, Peyton Hendershot. Hendershot has 4 touchdowns on the season and leads the team with 13.5 yards per catch. Expect Ramsey to look for Hendershot a lot over the middle, especially when Penn State sends their linebacker blitz packages Ramsey’s way.
Indiana’s defensive unit is not one with a true standout player but again boasts a solid unit. Allen Stallings IV and Demarcus Elliot are two players on Indiana’s defensive line that will cause issues for Penn State and Sean Clifford in the backfield. The Indiana secondary is the weakest link of this defense. Tiawan Mullen, Bryant Fitzgerald, and Jaylin Williams highlight the sub-par Indiana secondary. The Indiana defense is a solid unit, but they provide a nice break for this Penn State offense who has faced top defenses during their last four games.
Connor’s Keys to the Game…
Indiana- Let it Fly
Penn State’s secondary is their weakest link. We’ve seen all quarterbacks from Kenny Pickett from Pitt to the quarterback from Buffalo have career days vs. the Nittany Lions. Indiana’s offensive play calling has to be for Ramsey to let it fly. Throw the ball a lot, especially a lot of screens and underneath routes. Penn State’s inability to stop the pass has been concerning and they showed all their flaws vs. Minnesota. Establish a good passing game vs. the Nittany Lions and Indiana will find success and put up points on the Nittany Lions.
Penn State- Execute
Trying to predict what this Penn State team needs to do is just tiring at this point. Establish a consistent running attack, find other receiving options, stop the pass. All these things I’ve said all season and Penn State has failed to impress me in any of those categories. I’m just tired. Let me tell you one thing, Penn State’s talent on paper blows Indiana out of the water. So, just execute as you should. Let your talent just run over the Hoosiers. Get the playmakers the ball, let the defense fly, and just suffocate Indiana with your talent and win this game. Please?
Give me this game in Bloomington, I would predict Penn State to lose. Luckily for us, it’s not, but that doesn’t mean I think this game will be a cakewalk. We’ve seen this Penn State team in years past get knocked down and then get knocked down again before they can get back up. The formula is there for another let down of epic proportions. It sounds crazy to say considering we thought Penn State could’ve made the playoffs this year, but prepare for a dogfight. Indiana is a solid football team, who bear in mind is currently ranked in the AP Top 25. But, with all this being said, I refuse to believe this formula of one letdown followed by another letdown will continue. James Franklin will have the team fired up following last week, keep them focused on the opponent in front of them, and Penn State will be 1-0 this week. I’m expecting this game to remain close for large portions of this game, but Penn State will pull away in the end.
Score Prediction- Penn State 31, Indiana 17
It still hurts, but the show must go on. We’ve seen the same pattern for the last three seasons and that pattern is the reason why Penn State is still not on that elite level we know they can be on. Forget the Minnesota game last week and forget about the game against Ohio State next week, Indiana is the task at hand. It’s time to change the narrative. This is the crossroads, prove the haters wrong. Adversity is something we’re used to as a program, so for the love of all that is holy, overcome it. Indiana, Indiana, Indiana! Kickoff is set for noon on Saturday, November 16, from the comfy confines of Beaver Stadium. It’s going to be a cold one, so bundle up. As James Franklin always says, “It begins with I love you and ends with I love you.” Back the boys, let’s change the narrative. Let’s get it Nittany Nation, WE ARE!