BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Following No. 10 Penn State’s 45-31 comeback victory over Indiana here Saturday, Nittany Lion coach James Franklin called his team “gutsy” and “resilient.”
Boy is it ever. PSU trailed 24-14 with three minutes to go in the third quarter and then 31-28 with 11 minutes to go in the game. The Lions finished off the game (and the Hoosiers) with two (more) of their starting offensive linemen on the sideline with injuries, their quarterback having been beaten to a pulp and their star running back having been held to 1.8 yards per carry.
And they still won by two touchdowns.
“I’m proud of the guys,” Franklin said. “Nobody panicked.”
Penn State improved to 8-2 overall and 6-1 in the Big Ten, and is now riding its first six-game conference winning streak since … gulp … the mighty 1994 squad did it.
With two games remaining, the Nittany Lions have all but assured themselves of their best bowl destination since the Sandusky scandal erupted and are still in play for a New Year’s Six game.
Here is how we saw Saturday's crazy game in Bloomington.
MAN OF THE HOUR
Penn State has had some athletes play with heart though the years. But while many have had as much, you’d have a tough time convincing us anyone had more than QB Trace McSorley is showing this season. He took a physical pounding from the Hoosiers but still managed to complete 16 of 30 passes for 332 yards and a pair of touchdowns while running for yet another score. Sure, he had two interceptions (his first since the Michigan game). But that was more than offset by his overall poise under pressure.
WR Chris Godwin caught five passes for 82 yards and a pair of TDs. Penn State needed someone to beat IU’s man defense. Godwin got it done.
LB Brandon Bell had nine tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack, and caused a fumble that DE Torrence Brown returned for a TD.
There were about 30 of them in this game. But if we have to pick one — and we do — we’ll go with the PSU defense forcing a huge three-and-out with Indiana leading 31-28 midway through the final quarter. The Lions dominated both sides of the ball the rest of the way.
It may have been driving you crazy when the Hoosiers were burning PSU’s defensive backups — particularly in the secondary. But IU ran 82 plays. The Penn State defense was fresh down the stretch because coordinator Brent Pry committed to rotating players at all positions throughout the game. Can you recall a PSU defense that has been this deep?
• PSU has scored 40 or more points in three straight games for the first time since 2008.
• The Nittany Lions forced a season-high five turnovers.
• The Hoosiers had 16 tackles for losses, believed to be the most in school history.
WHAT'S UP WITH?
• We know it eventually led to a huge gain off a flea-flicker, but PSU’s insistence of crashing RB Saquon Barkley into a run-blitzing front over and over again seemed akin to banging one’s head against a wall. It looked like the short passing game, which served the Lions well in spots, was there all day.
• Penn State having another position hammered by injuries. Earlier this season, it was linebacker. Now it is the offensive line. OT Paris Palmer and OG Connor McGovern were both knocked out of this game.
• The Lions trying 6-foot-5 receiver Irvin Charles on a kickoff return. Charles has been involved in any number of special teams’ snafus this year, so nobody was surprised when he fumbled (but he did recover).
LOST IN THE SHUFFLE
• P Blake Gillikin mishandled a snap on the first quarter, but calmly picked up the loose pigskin and — with Hoosiers bearing down — managed to get off a 22-yard kick that saved field position for the Lions.
• Backup LB Brandon Smith always seems to make big plays. On an IU fourth-and-and goal from the PSU 1 in the third quarter, Smith broke up a pass and the Lions took over.
DID YOU NOTICE?
• For the first time this season, freshman tackle Will Fries did not travel to a road game. So when Palmer went out, starting LG Ryan Bates moved to LT, with Derek Dowrey and Steven Gonzales splitting reps at LG. Fries is on the second team in practice but has yet to play this season, and the staff is hoping to save his redshirt.
• Holder and back-up punter Chris Gulla did not make the trip. Walk-on QB Billy Fessler took over and was just fine.
What will the Nittany Lions’ offensive line look like at Rutgers next week?