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Penn State Escapes Purdue With A 35-31 Opening Week Victory

Penn State football (1-0) managed to overcome bad mistakes in its 2022 opener, defeating Purdue (0-1) 35-31 at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana.

After a promising start from Sean Clifford and his playmakers, a second-half injury scare led to true freshman Drew Allar receiving his first collegiate snaps. When Clifford returned, the team – offense and defense – began to unravel. An unexpectedly efficient fourth-quarter drive led to the Nittany Lions’ comeback and narrow victory.

Despite beginning its conference play on the road for the seventh consecutive year and enduring Purdue’s Black Out conditions, Penn State will return home undefeated.

How It Happened

On their first drive, the Nittany Lions went three and out, after two Keyvone Lee rushes and a holding penalty. After taking a second to feel the game out, the defense was able to fend off a pass-heavy series from the Boilermakers. True freshman Nick Singleton stepped in at running back and immediately made a mark with a speedy nine-yard gain before the drive eventually sputtered out.

Cornerback Joey Porter had two hands on a potential interception, but he bobbled it and Purdue took advantage, picking up an 11-yard reception. Purdue’s momentum continued all the way to a completed 36-yard field goal, giving them the first lead of the game at 3-0. True freshman running back Kaytron Allen stepped into the backfield as the first quarter’s time expired.

A quarter-opening fourth-down conversion set the stage for a 12-yard touchdown pass to Western Kentucky transfer Mitchell Tinsley, swinging the score to 7-3 for Penn State.

A targeting ejection on freshman linebacker Abdul Carter on his first defensive snap and two consecutive, bad plays from corner Johnny Dixon egged on a Purdue drive that ended with a three-yard touchdown run. With just under ten minutes remaining in the half, the Boilermakers were up 10-7.

After a late hit to his lower left leg, Clifford struck back with a goal line sneak gave the Nittany Lions another six and a 14-10 lead. Purdue took over possession with four and a half minutes left in the half, but quickly lost it on a red zone fumble forced by Zakee Wheatley — the “turnover king” of Penn State’s camp. It took the Nittany Lions two plays to take advantage, as Clifford found Brenton Strange for a 67-yard touchdown pass. Penn State entered halftime with a statement 21-10 advantage.

Purdue opened the half with a near four-minute drive, punctuated by a two-yard touchdown run, but it took a secondary spotlight when Clifford was seen jogging back to the locker room helmet-less. Recently named backup quarterback Drew Allar took the field for his first snaps as a Nittany Lion, defending a 21-17 lead.

Allar completed two-of-four passes en route to a punt. After the Boilermakers were held to a three and out, Clifford reemerged during a media timeout, having spent 23 minutes in the locker room. Clifford’s first drive back also ended in a punt. Purdue responded with a methodical 10-play, 81-yard touchdown drive and took a 24-21 lead late in the third.

The two teams traded punts to open the fourth quarter. A weak tackle attempt on Penn State’s second drive of the quarter allowed an easy 29-yard touchdown catch to KeAndre Lambert-Smith, giving Penn State the 28-24 advantage.

Penn State forced a quick three and out, but instead of capitalizing, Clifford threw his worst pass of the night. Clifford could not connect with a wide-open Tinsley, sailing the ball way over his head and into a defender’s arms for the pick-six. Purdue’s capture of a 31-28 lead was met by an uninspired four-play drive from the Nittany Lions.

Purdue milked the clock, before punting the ball back to Penn State. The Nittany Lions responded with an eight play, 80-yard touchdown drive led by Clifford’s six-of-seven passing. Clifford’s ten-yard pass to Keyvone Lee gave them the score and the 35-31 lead with less than a minute remaining.

A big-time sack from Manny Diaz’s defense halted the Boilermakers comeback momentum, and the Nittany Lions escaped with a victory.

Takeaways

  • Anyone who thought the quarterback controversy was going to calm down was proven wrong. Despite a poised first half performance from Sean Clifford, his potential injury scare seemed to shock the offense back into its lackluster 2021 form – including a terrible interception in the fourth. Drew Allar’s brief stint did not show enough to instill game changing confidence in him yet and Clifford’s game-winning drive was an unexpected master class, but the conversation surrounding changeup is no longer unfair.
  • Though the Clifford vs. Allar debate will continue with a new energy, it may not matter who’s under center if the drops aren’t curtailed. Too many passes hit receivers in the hands and still fell to the ground. Losing coverage battles is one thing, but if your hands are on it, that ball must be caught. The drops were an issue, but when pass catchers reeled the balls in, they hit space well. Mitchell Tinsley, Parker Washington, Brenton Strange, and KeAndre Lambert-Smith all had moments where they asserted themselves.
  • The theme of the night must have been youth, as the veteran starter, sophomore Keyvone Lee, looked less convincing than the pair of freshmen behind him. Both Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen appeared quicker and more aggressive in their decision making. Still, none made an indelible mark on the box score. On 27 rushes, the trio of backs totaled just 92 yards on the ground.
  • This offseason, James Franklin’s refrain about the offensive line has been “wait and see.” Well, we’ve seen. It’s still not great.
  • 26 of the 34 defensive players who traveled with the team received snaps on defense, including multiple new faces. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s preseason comments about building deep rotations were based in fact, however the quality of those rotations left something to be desired. The pass rush was lacking, the defensive backs were temperamental, and the middle of the field was attacked repeatedly by Purdue’s quarterback Aidan O’Connell. It’s hard to say whether the rotations were indicative of failed execution or just weak starters.

What’s Next

Penn State will host Ohio at noon on September 10 at Beaver Stadium in its 2022 home opener. The game will be televised on ABC.

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About the Author

Sam Fremin

Sam is a senior from Ashburn, Virginia, majoring in journalism and political science & minoring in German and creative writing. He is a Dallas Cowboys fan who relishes the misery of Eagles fans. All hate messages can be sent to sam@onwardstate.com or @SamFremin on Twitter.

He may or may not read every single comment he gets.

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