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Analyzing Post-Indiana Reactions For Penn State Football

Penn State football is back on track.

Although it wasn’t pretty, the Nittany Lions survived Indiana 33-24 at Beaver Stadium, bringing their record to 7-1. The Hoosiers kept the game competitive deep into the fourth quarter, and it looked like they were on the verge of an upset when Drew Allar threw his first career interception at his own 21-yard line with a few minutes remaining.

However, he connected with KeAndre Lambert-Smith for a 57-yard touchdown on the next drive, which was followed by a safety to seal the victory.

It was another hectic week for Penn State fans, who had plenty of things to say. Our football beat writers gave their thoughts on the hottest takes from the Indiana victory.

If Penn State Can’t Dominate Indiana, It Has No Chance Against Michigan

Nolan Wick: Wrong. First, let’s establish that this was clearly an off-day for Penn State and that it would dominate Indiana nine out of 10 times in a series. Saturday felt like a fluke, and the Nittany Lions are still far better on paper. Several things didn’t click on both sides of the ball which has proven to be a rare occurrence. 

As for Michigan, the chance that Penn State will pull off the upset isn’t high, regardless of how it fared against Indiana. However, a path to victory is there, albeit tight. While Michigan averages more passing yards per game, Penn State is actually the better average rushing yards per game team by a sliver. It’s also close defensively, but the Nittany Lions are still better in total yards allowed and average yards allowed per game and play. Let’s just say that Beaver Stadium’s home-field advantage will be as critical as ever for this one.

CJ Doebler: James Franklin is historically bad coming off of a loss. Franklin talked about the importance of not letting the loss to Ohio State hurt the team twice, but it looked like the Nittany Lions were going to do just that for the first 58 minutes of the game. While the defense had a bad game, I don’t think it’s anything to worry about. Everyone knows how well the defense can play, and the group didn’t meet the standard for most of the game on Saturday, but even on an off day, the defense made plays when it needed to.

On the offensive side of the ball, it was another tough showing. The passing game still didn’t look great for the majority of the game, and the running backs never got going. The duo of Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen put up 132 yards and were limited to just 3.1 yards per carry. The bright spot, however, was Drew Allar’s three touchdown passes, the last of which was a 57-yard strike to KeAndre Lambert-Smith that came two plays after Allar’s first career interception. The first 58 minutes weren’t great, but the end will provide a positive outlook for the Nittany Lions to focus on in the lead-up to Michigan.

Joe Lister: The Indiana game was perfect. Immaculate even. Of course, it’s reasonable to feel down about a team that just lost to Ohio State and barely beat Indiana, but the Nittany Lions did everything that they needed to against the Hoosiers. They won a game in the fourth quarter, they put together strong offensive and defensive drives when needed, and they chucked it deep.

Michigan, certainly, is a different animal. It’s possible that the Wolverines are the best team in the country right now. But if Penn State can use the momentum that it generated in the final five minutes against Indiana, it will have a solid argument to challenge a title contender. We’ll know more after Maryland.

This Was Manny Diaz’s Worst Performance

Nolan Wick: One could argue this was Manny Diaz’s worst game of the season simply because it was the most points his defense allowed all season so far. Additionally, it allowed 349 total yards, which is the third-highest of the season behind Ohio State (365) and surprisingly, Illinois (354). 

However, Indiana’s first two touchdown plays were so bad that the defense was exposed in mind-numbing fashion. The first was a 90-yard reception, while the second was a 69-yard reception. Both times, the secondary got fooled in a way I didn’t think was possible for a group of that caliber, as the plays were misread and the receivers got open with ease. So having said everything, Saturday wasn’t a good day for Diaz.

CJ Doebler: The defense didn’t play to the level it’s capable of on Saturday, but I would hesitate to call Manny Diaz’s squad terrible. Yes, the group gave up two very bad explosive touchdowns, one from 90 yards and one from 69 yards, but it only allowed one drive where Indiana was able to consistently beat the defense and take time off the clock on its way to a touchdown.

When the defense needed to step up, it did. After Allar’s first interception, the defense held Indiana to a field goal when the Hoosiers started at the Penn State 21-yard line. The next time the defense saw the field, defensive end Dani Dennis-Sutton forced a fumble on a strip-sack that resulted in a safety and effectively ended the game. The defense wasn’t as reliable as it has been, but it was far from terrible.

Joe Lister: This is what happens when Chop Robinson is out and Kalen King doesn’t play well. But again, when Penn State needed its defense to step up, it did so with a game-sealing safety. Indiana was the team’s worst performance of the season so far, but that was it for the duration of the year, then Manny Diaz has done great. Penn State fans can just hope that he’s a little more cautious to take a head coaching gig after his struggles at Miami.

Kalen King Is Falling Off

Nolan Wick: Kalen King didn’t look great against Ohio State, which can be attributed to the fact that he was covering Marvin Harrison Jr. for much of the game. In King’s defense, I don’t think there’s a single defensive back in America who can cover that guy. He’s clearly a generational talent and a top-five pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. 

King wasn’t involved in any of the three Indiana touchdown plays, as he was on the other side of the field covering another receiver for each of them. This has been a recurrence the whole season, as quarterbacks tend to avoid throwing in his direction. According to the NFL Mock Draft Database, King is projected to be a first-round selection next year. It’s not that he’s bad, it’s that quarterbacks are well aware of how dangerously good he can be. 

CJ Doebler: We’ve barely heard Kalen King’s name throughout the first six games of the season, yet now he’s being presented as the scapegoat for the secondary’s struggles the past two weeks. King is a fine corner, one that’s projected to be selected in the first round of next year’s draft. The fact that his name rarely appeared on the stat sheet up to this point in the season is a testament to how good he is — teams are afraid to target him.

Covering Marvin Harrison Jr. last week was always a task that King was going to struggle with. That lack of success a week ago may have carried over into this week’s game with Indiana, but I don’t think this is going to be much of a theme the rest of the way.

Joe Lister: Really, you just have to hope that Marvin Harrison Jr. didn’t mean the end of Kalen King. King, who was regarded as one of the nation’s top defensive backs during the season, looked rough against the talented Harrison (who is my Heisman frontrunner) and didn’t improve against Indiana. But that doesn’t mean that King is washed. It just means that, like the rest of Penn State, he looked rough against Ohio State and worse against Indiana. Things happen. Again, Maryland will tell us more.

Drew Allar Looked Out Of Sorts

Nolan Wick: Allar tossed 210 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception while posting a 64.5% completion rate. Those 210 yards were the most he’s thrown since the first week, while the three touchdowns tied for his second-highest of the season. 

Allar’s interception late in the fourth quarter was perilous, but he responded by throwing a 57-yard touchdown pass to KeAndre Lambert-Smith, which I think was his best play of the season so far. His passes were more accurate and he looked more composed than he did against Ohio State. The sophomore needed to bounce back after that performance, and he passed the test on Saturday.

CJ Doebler: It wasn’t great, but he wasn’t given much help. The stat line wasn’t bad: 210 yards and three touchdowns is a good game. Going into the final drive of the game, however, Allar had just 153 yards through the air.

The tight ends stepped up to aid the passing game, catching two of Allar’s three touchdown throws, but they can only do so much. Allar needs to build trust with his receivers to have success in the passing game and that just hasn’t been there so far this season.

Joe Lister: Drew Allar had a fantastic game. Sometimes the numbers don’t always show it, but he looked the way he needed to. On a few occasions, Allar showed that he’s at least semi-mobile when evading pressure, and even dropped the shoulder on a Hoosier while racing for a first down. Allar also boosted his completion percentage, recorded three touchdowns, and finally threw an interception, which was great, actually. Oh, and when his team needed it, he found KeAndre Lambert-Smith on a 57-yard bomb to win the game. Allar is good at football.

Penn State Is Bad

Nolan Wick: No, Penn State is actually pretty good. A 7-1 record with the only loss being a 20-12 rout at Ohio State means the path to the Big Ten Championship and College Football Playoff is still open. 

I’ve written about how the defense is the best in the nation. The offense could use some work, which is my primary concern with this team. On any given day, however, Penn State could beat almost any team in college football. 

The Nittany Lions need to beat Michigan. If they don’t, all bets are off. If they do, they’re probably in the CFP. While the Wolverines along with Georgia are nearly guaranteed to make it, Penn State has gotten some help recently. With other teams that were in the hunt losing, 11-1 is all Penn State needs. 

CJ Doebler: Penn State’s not a bad team. The Nittany Lions went on the road to Columbus and lost to a team that was ranked higher than them. It was the first time Penn State’s relatively young roster had to deal with such a devastating loss, and it took them a while to get back into form against Indiana. The team avoided the upset this week and added another game to the win column. It’s time to put the last two weeks in the rearview and look toward Maryland this Saturday.

Joe Lister: Penn State is very good, actually.

Again, Indiana was the hump that the whole team needed to get over after the Ohio State loss. It did get over that hump, and now the team can go down to College Park, Maryland, and win a darn football game. This is still (in my opinion) the best defense in college football. It has a generationally talented quarterback, even if not everyone thinks so yet. It has not one, not two, but three starting tight ends — Khalil Dinkins is the real deal, folks.

All the pieces of the puzzle are currently lying on the floor of Franklin’s office. Realistically, he’s already put together all the edge pieces. Now, Franklin just has to finish the job and put everything else together into one, beautiful piece.

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