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Penn State Stays Positive After Tough 44-24 Road Loss To Indiana

It’s certainly tough to stay positive after a 42-24 loss on Saturday to the Indiana Hoosiers, a team that Penn State had a 16-0 record against entering Saturday. But this isn’t the first time that the Nittany Lions have faced this type of adversity. After receiving crippling sanctions from the NCAA before the 2012 season and losing to beatable teams in back-to-back weeks to start 0-2, the Nittany Lions and Bill O’Brien — in his first year at the helm — bounced back and finished the season 8-4.

The game started out fairly well for Penn State. The offense was expected to dominate Indiana’s defense, and on the first drive of the game it seemed that would be the case. A long Zach Zwinak run, a couple nice passes to Allen Robinson, and a Kyle Carter reception had the team down to Indiana’s 26-yard line. The offense faced a 4th-and-6 and Bill O’Brien, sticking with the mentality that this would be a game decided by touchdowns and not field goals, kept Christian Hackenberg and the offense onn the field. An incomplete pass gave Indiana the ball.

The next few series were fairly uneventful for both teams. There were a few first downs amongst them, but neither team was able to significantly advance the ball, not until late in the first quarter. Indiana started a drive at its own 34-yard line. Quarterback Nate Sudfeld connected with Kofi Hughes for 11 yards. And then he found Cody Latimer for 33 more. And then he passed to running back Tevin Coleman for another 12.

Sudfeld capped off that drive with a five-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Roundtree to go ahead 7-0. It was widely predicted that Sudfeld would have success against a weak Penn State secondary, but he absolutely abused Penn State on a four-play, 66-yard drive that took just 44 seconds.

Penn State answered early in the second quarter with a touchdown drive of its own. Starting at the 44-yard line, the Nittany Lions picked up one first down before Hackenberg hit Robinson about 10 yards past the line of scrimmage on the left side of the field. Robinson evaded the man covering him, juked another defensive back, and accelerated to the end zone for a 46-yard touchdown to tie up the game.

The Hoosiers picked up a field goal on the ensuing drive to go ahead 10-7. Penn State looked ready to answer again on the next possession, making it to the Indiana 25-yard line, but Sam Ficken’s 42-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Ralphael Green. Indiana capitalized on the play by driving for a field goal of its own to make the halftime score 13-7. The high-scoring shootout that everyone expected didn’t seem to be on the way.

On Penn State’s first drive of the second half, the offense picked up three third-down conversions and faced a 3rd-and-10 from the Indiana 26-yard line. Robinson, lined up wide right, found space behind his defender. Hackenberg did his part, threading the needle to his receiver on the side of the end zone with two defensive backs tailing him for a score that gave Penn State a 14-13 lead. That lead quickly disappeared when Indiana put together a five-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in just 1:22 that was capped off with a 44-yard run by Coleman for the score.

Late in the third quarter, the Nittany Lions started to play O’Brien’s favorite kind of football: complimentary football. Adrian Amos came up with an interception on a ball tipped by Glenn Carson just shy of midfield. The offense quickly drove into the red zone but stalled, leading to a 30-yard Sam Ficken field goal to make it 21-17. It was still a ball game, but not for long.

Indiana opened the fourth quarter with a touchdown drive. Penn State then turned the ball over on downs after failing to convert a 4th-and-two from its own 33-yard line and the Hoosiers scored again, this time in just two plays. Eugene Lewis fumbled the kickoff return following the Indiana touchdown, giving the Hoosiers the ball on the nine-yard line.  A 21-17 game quickly became a 42-17 game with just over ten minutes to play.

With 10:30 to go and a 25-point deficit, the Nittany Lions needed a miracle to win the game. That miracle didn’t come. Hackenberg hit Bill Belton for a touchdown on the next drive. The defense came up with a stop. But then Hackenberg was stripped in the end zone for a safety that made the score 44-24. That’s where it stayed until the clock hit zero.

The Nittany Lions weren’t supposed to lose to the Indiana Hoosiers. Penn State was favored by 3.5 points on the road, not a large spread by any means, but enough to call the team a relatively strong favorite. This was supposed to be one of the Nittany Lions’ easiest games on the conference schedule. But what was supposed to happen doesn’t matter. The Nittany Lions got blown out in Bloomington by a surprisingly respectable Indiana team.

The players and coaches could be hanging their heads. They could be down in the dumps talking about how poorly they executed the game plan, how the run game never got off the ground despite a horrific Indiana run defense, how Hackenberg made a ton of poor decisions, how the play-calling on both offense and defense was inconsistent and just outright bad at many points in the game. But that isn’t what happened after the game. Instead of moping, the players were somewhat upbeat, sticking with that resilient attitude that led them to an 8-4 season last year after a disappointing 0-2 start.

“O’Brien said to keep our heads high,” DaQuan Jones said. “We can choose what team we want to be. We want to be a resilient team and we love each other. We know how good of a team we can be. Come Monday we put the loss behind us and try and get ready for Michigan. Last year we lost two games back-to-back and people counted us out. We just have to keep fighting. We realized what kind of team we can be after that second loss [last year.] Nobody likes losing so we just have put our heads down and go to work.”

Like Jones said, the team realized how good they could be after losing the first two games of the 2012 season. That level of resiliency is what allowed the players to fight past the sanctions and fight past some tough teams over the course of the year. This season is no different. Hackenberg is a young quarterback and is facing some growing pains. The same can be said for Jordan Lucas and Trevor Williams, a duo of young cornerbacks that hold the most blame for the defensive struggles in Penn State’s two losses. But there are some very bright spots on this team as evidenced by its three wins.

“The end goal of the day is to win and we didn’t win so we obviously need to play better,” offensive lineman Miles Dieffenbach said. “It won’t be that tough [to rebound.] We’ve been through a lot of adversity since Coach O’Brien has been here and this will help us in the end. We’re going to get better from this game, we’re going to learn, and we’re going to come back next week.”

That mind set has been instilled in the players and the coaching staff by O’Brien since he first came to Penn State last year. O’Brien has always stressed a never-say-die attitude and his football team has always echoed that sentiment on the field. The Nittany Lions certainly aren’t going to lay down and wave the white flag after being upset in the first conference game of the season.

“I don’t think [the us against the world mentality] is gone,” O’Brien said. “We have a lot of resilient kids here. They show up to practice every day and they practice hard. I think that reserve is still there. There’s still a hard-working attitude at Penn State. I don’t think in any stretch of anybody’s imagination this is a normal Penn State team with 61 kids on scholarship and 40 walk-ons. But you know what? These kids are practicing hard. We have to coach them better. We have to put them in better positions. We have good players. And that’s what we’re going to try to do starting tomorrow.”

Game notes:

  • Penn State was held to just 70 rushing yards on 38 carries against a team that entered the game with one of the worst run defenses in the nation statistically. Zach Zwinak rushed 17 times for 74 yards (4.2 yards per carry). Bill Belton rushed 10 times for 37 yards (3.7 yards per carry). Akeel Lynch rushed three times for seven yards (2.3 yards per carry).
  • Christian Hackenberg went 30-for-55 for 340 yards and three touchdowns. On paper, he had a great game, but Hackenberg was lucky to escape interceptions a number of times. His 55 pass attempts are a new Penn State record.
  • Allen Robinson continued his dominance despite getting hurt and missing some time late in the game. He finished with a career-high 12 receptions for 173 yards and two scores.
  • Jordan Lucas had nine tackles, a career high, but that number says more about how many times his receiver was open than it does about how he played.
  • Penn State had 27 first downs to Indiana’s 23. Penn State converted 11-of-22 third downs to Indiana’s 4-of-15. Penn State had four sacks to Indiana’s one. Penn State ran 93 plays on offense to Indiana’s 80. The turnover margin was even. These are numbers that would lead you to believe that it was at the very least a close game, but it was a blowout victory for Indiana.
  • Nate Sudfeld went 23-for-38 for 321 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception, but those stats aren’t indicative of how thoroughly he dominated Penn State’s defense.
  • Indiana rushed 41 times for 150 yards and three touchdowns, abusing a Penn State front seven that was solid entering Saturday’s game.

About the Author

Zach Berger

Zach Berger is a StateCollege.com reporter and Onward State's Managing Editor Emeritus. You can find him at the Phyrst more nights than not. If he had to pick a last meal, Zach would go for a medium-rare New York strip steak with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and a cold BrewDog Punk IPA. You can reach him via e-mail at [email protected] or on Twitter at @theZachBerger.

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