A Look Back At Penn State Football’s Past Struggles In Bloomington
In just a few days, Penn State football is set to open its season against Indiana on the road.
Since the Nittany Lions’ inaugural Big Ten season in 1993, the Hoosiers have defeated Penn State only once in 23 matchups — a 44-24 rout in 2013.
Nonetheless, Memorial Stadium has always posed a challenge to even the most talented Nittany Lion rosters. Since the first match-up in Bloomington in 1994, six of the 10 games played on the road ended in a one-possession game. Saturday’s matchup could likely be more of the same.
Between a stout goal-line stand in 2004 to a late effort to stave off the upset-minded Hoosiers in 2018, here are some of Penn State’s closest calls in Bloomington over the years.
1994 — Penn State 34, Indiana 29
Following a 63-14 drubbing of Ohio State the week prior, the Nittany Lions entered Bloomington on a 12-game winning streak since 1993 and were ranked the No. 2 team in the country.
The Lions cruised early, as the one-two punch from Kerry Collins and Ki-Jana Carter proved to be too potent for the Hoosiers defense. Needing an instant spark, the Hoosiers turned to backup quarterback Chris Dittoe late in the second quarter.
Dittoe, who finished with 279-passing yards and three touchdowns, led two scoring drives in the final minutes to bring the Hoosiers to a one-possession game. Although the game ended in a victory for the Nittany Lions, Joe Paterno was extremely disappointed in his team’s fourth-quarter effort.
“The Indiana people looked like they won it,” Paterno told reporters after the game.
2004 — Penn State 22, Indiana 18
In what marked the final season of “The Dark Years,” Penn State squeaked out its first conference win of the season on a dreary November day in Bloomington.
Prior to the game, Penn State was at one of its lowest points in program history. The team entered the game with a 2-7 overall record, with an 0-6 mark in conference play. Many fans and reporters questioned if Paterno’s days were numbered in Happy Valley due to several consecutive seasons of mediocrity and underachievement.
More than ever, Penn State needed a season-defining win. With 4:51 remaining, quarterback Zack Mills led an 80-yard drive and finished the possession with a gritty two-point conversion run to extend the lead to 22-16 for the Nittany Lions.
With fewer than two minutes remaining, Indiana drove into Penn State territory needing just one more yard with four downs to find the end zone. After three straight run calls from the Hoosiers, the Lions were a stop away from snapping their two-month winless drought. On fourth down, Alan Zemaitis and Calvin Lowry combined for a goal-line stand for the ages. They stopped Hoosiers running back Chris Taylor a yard short of the line to give Penn State the long-awaited taste of victory.
2014 — Penn State 13, Indiana 7
In James Franklin’s first-ever trip to Bloomington, the Nittany Lions entered the matchup with the Hoosiers following four-straight Big Ten losses. With the goal of a postseason bowl game hanging in the balance, Franklin and the Lions knew that the game was a must-win.
Both teams started extremely slow, as the first fireworks did not come until late in the first half. Following an interception returned for a touchdown to put the Hoosiers up 7-0, running back Bill Belton answered the call with a 92-yard touchdown run that still stands as the longest in school history.
Behind two additional Sam Ficken field goals in the second half, Penn State returned back to Happy Valley victorious, needing just one more win to secure a bowl bid for the first time since the 2011 season.
2018 — Penn State 33, Indiana 28
After losses to Ohio State and Michigan State by a combined four points, Penn State entered Western Indiana in a tough spot.
Needing a win to keep hopes alive for a third possible New Year’s Six berth in the same number of years, the Lions started hot behind an early Miles Sanders touchdown on the ground.
The Hoosiers scored twice more to pull ahead 14-7 until a beautifully designed wrinkle from Penn State resulted in a 23-yard touchdown pass from Tommy Stevens to Pat Freiermuth.
After the Nittany Lions seemed to have control from late in the second quarter until late in the fourth, Indiana miraculously cut Penn State’s lead to five points with 49 seconds remaining. Needing one final chance to win the game, Indiana attempted and recovered an onside kick but failed to capitalize on the final possession.
Avoiding upsets has been a common theme for Penn State in Bloomington since the program’s induction into the Big Ten. With the start of a new decade of Nittany Lion football set to begin Saturday, the -6.5 point spread in favor of the visitors seems to be an accurate depiction of historical trends.
Penn State will take on Indiana at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 24 on FS1.
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About the Author
Just how good was that Dom DeLuca pick-six against Delaware?
Mulvaney was emotionally vulnerable with the audience while offering plenty of words of advice.
“As unfortunate as that is, it gives someone an opportunity to step in.”