Penn State Limps to ‘Pretty’ 13-7 Victory Over Indiana
Penn State avenged a 2013 loss to Indiana on a gusty Bloomington Saturday, shutting down the Hoosiers offense en route to a 13-7 victory. The Nittany Lions (5-4) limited Indiana (3-6) to zero offensive points, and only 221 total yards.
How it happened:
A sequence of three consecutive plays comprised all of the first half’s scoring, and most of its action.
After a series of eight straight punts started the game, Penn State received the ball with 4:06 left in the half at its own 47 yard line.
On first and 10, Christian Hackenberg dropped back and targeted Saeed Blacknall on a quick screen. He didn’t see, however, Indiana’s all-out blitz. Safety Mark Murphy, rushing towards the quarterback, jumped the route and returned the interception to the end zone, giving the Hoosiers a 7-0 lead.
“He read the coverage,” said Hackenberg. “It’s hard to process that quick.”
The score occurred shortly after Sam Ficken, Penn State’s lone source of offense last week, had a short field goal blocked. Penn State had a first and goal from the one, but its weak offensive line and rushing attack could not muster the mighty push needed for a touchdown.
Following the touchdown, Grant Haley unwisely decided to return the kickoff from the end zone. He was brought down at the eight yard line, and it looked as if Penn State was destined for another three-and-out deep in its own territory. But on first down, Bill Belton burst through a seam and outran two defenders en route to a 92-yard touchdown run. It was Penn State’s longest play of the season, and the longest rushing touchdown in school history.
“I was willing him into the end zone,” said James Franklin after the game. “I’ve never seen a run like that when guys are on his back for the whole 92 yards.”
Ficken’s extra point tied the game at seven, where, after Jesse Della Valle intercepted Zander Diamont’s last-second heave into the end zone, the score stood into the half.
In between that three play stretch was a plethora of punts, third and longs, and poor runs. Belton finished the half with 95 yards on the ground, 92 of which came on his score. The Lions punted nine times to Indiana’s 11 in the game. Hackenberg again struggled, finished the game with 168 yards and two interceptions on 12-of-29 passing.
Penn State’s stout defense continued its dominance, limiting explosive running back Tevin Coleman to 71 yards on 20 carries.
“Football is truly the ultimate team sport,” said Hackenberg. “When you have a defense like that, it helps a lot.”
Then, on its first drive of the second half, Penn State used good field position to march 39 yards on nine plays to Indiana’s nine. Hackenberg’s end zone pass to Mike Gesicki fell long, but Ficken hit a 27-yard field goal to give the Lions their first lead, 10-7.
Indiana found itself with a chance to tie with 10:48 remaining in the game. Griffen Oakes came out to attempt a 51-yard field goal, almost exactly where Franklin elected to not have Ficken kick. Oakes shanked the kick mightily, and Indiana’s best offensive scoring opportunity to that point was squandered.
Penn State’s next drive also featured promise, especially after Bill Belton picked up 16 yards from the Wildcat to Indiana’s 40. But, facing a fourth down from the 34, Franklin elected to punt instead of testing Ficken in the windy Bloomington afternoon. Dan Pasquariello, who performed markedly better than last week, punted into the end zone.
Like much of the first half, a punting battle then ensued. Pasquariello and Indiana’s Erich Toth traded field position well into the fourth quarter.
With 5:28 remaining in the game, Penn State’s offense once again gave Indiana the opportunity to win the game. On third and 14 from midfield, Hackenberg’s pass through a misty rain was tipped and intercepted. Indiana took over at its 48.
But, like the rest of the day, the Hoosiers offense was overmatched against the Nittany Lion defense. They lost eight yards on the drive, and once again punted to Jesse Della Valle. Penn State responded with a three and out. Then, on the second play of Indiana’s drive, Nyeem Wartman jumped in front of Diamont’s pass, and picked it off to the 24.
“Our defense is really gaining confidence,” said Franklin.
Four Belton runs followed by a Sam Ficken 28-yard field goal — his second of the day — extended the lead to 13-7. With no timeouts, Diamont and the Hoosiers had no success in mounting a final-minute drive.
Player of the Game:
Bill Belton’s 92-yard touchdown sprint provided Penn State with the spark it needed to win the game. His 16-yard carry from the Wildcat, and a 14-yard pickup late in the fourth quarter to set up Ficken’s final field goal also carried the Nittany Lions to victory.
It was his fourth career game of rushing for at least 100 yards. He ended the day with 137 yards on 16 carries.
“I’m really happy for him,” said Franklin.
Quote of the Game:
“That was the prettiest win I’ve ever seen, in twenty years,” Franklin said after the game.
Asked why he found this ugly victory so pretty, Franklin said he wasn’t really sure. “It’s a W,” he offered. “We’re going to enjoy wins around here. After some of the emotional games we’ve had, we’ll take as many of these as we’ll get.”
Penn State hosts Temple next Saturday at Beaver Stadium. If the Lions win, they’ll be eligible for their first bowl game since 2011.