First-Half Offensive Struggles Haunt Penn State In Heartbreaking Defeat

Penn State football’s first drive of the 2020 season went about as well as possible Saturday afternoon in Bloomington.

The Nittany Lions mixed their play-calling to perfection and capped off a 13-play, 64-yard drive with a touchdown pass to star tight end Pat Freiermuth on fourth down. Holding a 7-0 lead within the first few minutes, it looked like Penn State was ready to control things against Indiana.

That feeling didn’t last, however.

Over the course of its next six drives in the first half, Penn State didn’t put up any points and turned the ball over on three occasions. In fact, the Nittany Lions managed just a punt, an interception, a punt, an interception, a fumble, and a missed field goal the rest of the way.

For an offense with high expectations under new coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, that run to halftime was disappointing to say the least.

“We finally got into a rhythm in the second half a little bit, but you can’t not play well on the road in the Big Ten against good opponents,” James Franklin said postgame. “We didn’t do that early on.”

Devyn Ford’s accidental walk-in touchdown may be pointed to as the biggest play that kept the Hoosiers alive late. But Franklin added that there were a lot of plays throughout the game that the Nittany Lions “would’ve liked to have been different.”

“There were a lot of plays throughout the game that we should’ve done differently, could’ve handled better, and could’ve made,” Franklin said.

Along with the three first half turnovers, Penn State struggled to pick up much of any momentum on the offensive side of the ball. The Nittany Lions hit on just one pass play of more than 15 yards in the first half, and had just one rush of more than 10 yards.

The lack of explosiveness on offense left Penn State in a 10-point hole at halftime, and were forced to play from behind for the vast majority of the final 30 minutes.

While the leader of Penn State’s offense hardly had a bad game, Sean Clifford’s first half stat line of 91 passing yards and two interceptions wasn’t up to his standards.

“I didn’t feel like we were comfortable on offense or in a rhythm in the first half,” Franklin said. “Obviously a lot of that is the quarterback, it’s just the nature of playing football and the nature of offensive football. I thought he did settle down as the game went on.

“I also thought when he became a more aggressive runner, that’s a big part of Sean’s game. When he became a more aggressive runner then other things fell into place for him,” Franklin added.

There’s no doubt Clifford stepped up in the second half, as the redshirt junior played turnover-free football worth 147 passing yards, 119 rushing yards, and two scores. One of QB1’s biggest plays came on a 60-yard dime to Jahan Dotson that gave Penn State the lead late.

All of that proved too little too late, however, as the Nittany Lions eventually fell in overtime. Even with the questionable call to close out the game, Penn State could’ve avoided the late drama had it played a more efficient first half.

For now, though, all the Nittany Lions can do is turn their focus to No. 5 Ohio State. The Buckeyes look as strong as ever after a convincing defeat over Nebraska Saturday, but Penn State remains confident that it can still accomplish its goals.

“Just bounce back. When your back is against the wall, how do you respond?,” Clifford said. “Our season is still in front of us. One loss won’t define us, and we gotta go 1-0 next week.”

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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