Penn State outgained Indiana 488-211, earned 11 more first downs, and stopped the home team on eight of 12 third down conversion attempts.
It didn’t matter, as the Lions lost the penalty and turnover battles, made key mistakes at the most inopportune times, and were perhaps victims of bad officiating luck in Saturday’s 36-35 upset loss at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington.
Here are our takeaways from Penn State’s first setback of the year.
Was it a two-point conversion?
The days ahead will be filled with edited video clips slowed to milliseconds and photos that either say they do or do not prove that Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr., scored on the game-winning two-point conversion try.
In the end, they won’t change anything, as referee Ron Snodgrass took a long look at the game-deciding play before determining that the call on the field would stand.
On first glance, it did appear that Penix Jr., who finished 19 of 36 for 170 yards, a touchdown, and an interception to go with a rushing score, was short. And, photo and video evidence suggest that the ball may have touched out of bounds before it broke the goal line.
Penn State fans will make a spirited, and perhaps even correct, argument that it was clear that the Indiana quarterback didn’t get in, but it was a true 50-50 call, and would have almost certainly stood as well if it was called the other way in real-time.
“From what I was told, it could have went either way, but if it’s something that could have went either way, then it’s inconclusive, and the call stands,” Franklin said, adding that he had not seen the film yet.
It was an extremely close call and could have gone either way. But, leaving it up to the officials is never a good idea, and by not stopping Penix Jr., on either his touchdown toss to Whopp Philyor or shorter on his two-point scramble, the Lions allowed exactly that to happen.
- More: Penn State rapid reaction: Indiana 36, Nittany Lions 35 OT (Memorial Stadium)
While it’s easy and simple to note that the loss of spring practice combined with a unique pre-season practice schedule would lead to mistakes, both Penn State and Indiana experienced both because of the coronavirus pandemic, and yet only the former made as many costly mistakes as possible.
The Lions missed three field goals, committed 10 penalties, and turned the ball over three times, which results in 10 points for the Hoosiers. There were missed assignments, mind-boggling coaching decisions, and ill-advised ideas, such as Devyn Ford deciding to score late in fourth quarter as opposed to sliding down and icing the game.
Franklin’s teams are typically disciplined and take care of the football, but on Saturday, they were almost anything but, and it cost them in this year’s opener.
Did he see anything particular that led to the sloppiness?
“No, other than the fact that we lost a couple running backs, so guys, you know, playing for the first time, that factored into it a little bit, and then some decision making,” Franklin said. “Our practice shell hasn’t changed. We work those things every single day, not some days, every single day, and we got to get better at it.”
- More: Why didn’t Penn State’s Devyn Ford slide on late touchdown run? It could have iced the game
Special teams not so special
Special teams coordiantor Joe Lorig said before the season began that he had noticed a lot of issues with units like his across the country early in the season. He wanted to make sure his group wasn’t one that had problems.
The Lions muffed punts and kickoffs, missed three field goals, and sparked nothing in the return game. It meant that a unit that was expected to be among the team’s most reliable ones wasn’t, and it is yet another area where improvements are needed.
“We didn’t kick the ball necessarily well on PATs and field goals, we didn’t kick necessarily very well on kickoff, and then we weren’t as clean as we need to be returning kicks as well, kickoffs and punts.”
Wanting more from the offense
It feels weird to type that the offense needed to do more in a game in which they scored 35 points and amassed 488 yards, but it feels true.
Lots of hope was pinned on first-year offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca to improve quarterback Sean Clifford and make the Lions more explosive while being better in short-yardage situations. Yet, too many times on Saturday, they came up short.
The receivers seemingly struggled to get open, which has been a problem for years, and once back Noah Cain went out due to an undisclosed injury in the first quarter, the run game became stagnant, as did the entire offense. At one point, it consisted of little more than Clifford runs or passes to tight end Pat Freiermuth with handoffs mixed in as well. It was not the imaginative, creative system many expected out of the box, and surely didn’t replicate the high-flying ways of Ciarrocca’s offense at Minnesota.
There were signs, however, of promise, but they were seen too few and far between. That must change quickly with Ohio State coming to town next Saturday night.
“At the end of the day, we didn’t play well enough to win, and that’s in all three phases.”
Penn State returns to the field next Saturday when a top-five Ohio State team invades Beaver Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. on ABC.