Penn State’s Secondary Comes Through In Roller-Coaster Win Over Purdue

Well, that was a roller coaster of emotions at its finest.

Penn State football completed a last-minute comeback to escape West Lafayette with a 35-31 victory over Purdue. Sean Clifford led an eight-play, 80-yard drive in just 1:25 to get the late game-winning touchdown for the Nittany Lions.

Even though it was the offense that led the charge downfield, Penn State’s secondary deserves some serious credit for coming through when it mattered most in the fourth quarter.

Heading into the game, Penn State was focused on limiting Purdue’s passing game that gave it a lot of success last season. Through the first half, Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell completed a modest 12 of 22 passes for 146 yards and only had one rushing touchdown to show for it. But the second half was a different story.

Purdue was able to move the ball with ease in the third quarter. In that frame alone, O’Connell threw for 136 yards and a touchdown pass on ten catches to give the Boilermakers a 24-21 lead. Things weren’t looking great for Penn State, especially since Clifford had looked rusty since coming back after a 26-minute absence from the game. But when the Nittany Lions seemed doomed heading into the final frame, Penn State’s secondary did its job when it mattered most.

After ripping through the defense in the first three quarters, O’Connell was limited to just 74 passing yards with seven completions in 20 attempts, which helped to set up Penn State’s game-winning march down the field after some crucial Purdue three-and-outs. The Nittany Lions made five straight stops against the Boilermakers.

“We just have to rally and trust the coaches and trust ourselves,” cornerback Joey Porter Jr. said after the game.

He went on to mention that the back-to-back three and outs the group held Purdue to gave it the confidence it needed to shut down the Boilermakers’ passing game.

Porter was Penn State’s best cornerback by far, recording a team-high eight tackles and recovering a crucial fumble at the end of the second quarter that preceded Penn State’s 28-second scoring drive.

“It just was a play that needed to be made,” he said. “It was in the red zone, and we told the defense, ‘They got down here, but they can’t score down here.’ We just have to stay with that mentality.”

Porter partly attributed the secondary’s fourth-quarter turnoud to the rotation of cornerbacks that were coming in and out of the game. He and Kalen King started at corner, but Daequan Hardy, Johnny Dixon, and Marquis Wilson were all mixed in as well. It was the same theme for the safties, too.

“I definitely do,” Porter said when asked if the rotation helped lead to five consecutive defensive stops. “The rotation that coach [Terry] Smith got us in works well, and it gets everybody reps and gets everybody rested. If we just keep doing that, we’re going to be good.”

Still, it wasn’t a perfect showing for the secondary that had the chance to make even more big turnovers.

“I’m going to watch that one back tonight,” Porter said. “I definitely feel like I left some plays out there, but I know I rebounded and made a lot of good ones. We’re just going to watch the film and try to do better.”

People are still going to say that Penn State’s secondary is a cause for concern and that it didn’t do enough to limit O’Connell and Purdue’s game plan. But the bottom line is that Manny Diaz’s young secondary stepped up when it needed to most in a tough road environment. If the game had gone into overtime, there was a sense of confortability the secondary gave with how it turned its game around in the final frame. It definitely wasn’t perfect, but I’m sure any Penn State fan will take a gritty road win in an environment like last night.

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About the Author

Frankie Marzano

Frankie is a senior accounting and economics major from Long Island, NY. You can probably recognize him as the typical Italian-American with slicked back black hair. He is an avid fan of the New York Rangers and Mets, along with every Penn State Athletics team. Follow him on Twitter @frankiemarzano for obnoxious amounts of Rangers and Penn State content or email him at [email protected].

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