Lions show mettle in wild fourth quarter
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — It looked like the magic was running out, and all the talk of a 10-2 season for Penn State was turning out to be premature.
Late third quarter.
On the road.
Star running back getting stuffed.
Offensive line falling apart again.
For this Nittany Lion team, however, it turned out to be just another chance to overcome adversity, culminating with another improbable chapter in this improbable season.
“There’s not one person on this team that thinks we’re not going to come back from (deficits) like that,” PSU quarterback Trace McSorley said.
McSorley threw for 332 yards to lead a quick-strike attack late in the game as the Lions rallied for a 45-31 win over Indiana before 40,678 fans at Memorial Stadium.
Some teams just have that “it” factor when it comes to finding a way to win, and clearly, this PSU team does indeed have it. The No. 10 Lions won their sixth consecutive Big Ten game, the first time the program has done that since the undefeated 1994 season.
To do so, Penn State had to overcome a 24-14 deficit after Indiana had scored a TD with 3:13 left in the third quarter.
From that point on, the Lions (8-2, 6-1 Big Ten) destroyed the Hoosiers, scoring 31 points in the final 16:09 of the game to win by two touchdowns.
“At the end of the day, it was an ugly win, but we got the win,” running back Saquon Barkley, held to only 58 yards on 33 carries, said of the comeback. “Any win, especially, in the Big Ten, is a big win for us.”
Barkley’s 4-yard TD run gave PSU a 28-24 lead with 12:23 to play, and it looked like the Lions were going to dodge a bullet. But Indiana came right back with a 75-yard TD drive of its own, taking a 31-28 lead on Richard Lagow’s 40-yard TD pass to Nick Westbrook with 11:06 left.
The teams traded empty possessions, then Penn State got the ball back at its own 43 with 6:51 to go. McSorley hit Chris Godwin for 26 yards to the 17, and two plays later, Barkley had the highlight of his day.
The Hoosiers’ game plan coming in was to make sure the PSU star didn’t beat them, so they loaded up the box and drilled him quickly on most of his carries. But on second down from the 15, Barkley got a little crease up the middle and kept churning his powerful legs forward, dragging defenders for what turned into a 13-yard gain to the 2.
“We got a little space, and I was trying to get vertical,” Barkley said. “I was able to make a couple guys miss, hold one guy off. I didn’t really carry anyone. The O-line did a tremendous job of sticking with the play and moving the pile.”
Two plays later, Barkley scored from 2 yards out for a 35-31 PSU edge with 3:58 to go.
Penn State coach James Franklin credited Indiana’s defense for coming up with a good strategy against Barkley, who had entered the Heisman Trophy discussion with stellar performances the past four weeks.
“What you can’t do when you are struggling in the run game is to abort it with a young offensive line and just start throwing it every down,” Franklin said of the commitment to keep running Barkley.
Indiana’s ensuing possession, with the game on the line, was downright bizarre.
The Hoosiers (5-5, 3-4), with only one timeout left, took over at their 15 with 3:54 to go and got a 5-yard carry on first down from Devine Redding. Their playcalling after that, however, made for a lot of head scratching.
Instead of trying to just move the chains, Indiana tried a low-percentage deep ball down the right sideline on second down that was incomplete. On third-and-5, despite throwing the ball for 344 yards and being successful with a lot of underneath routes, they strangely gave it Redding, and he managed just 2 yards.
The Hoosiers had to go for it on fourth-and-3 from their 22, and Altoona Area High School product Kevin Givens batted down Lagow’s pass at the line of scrimmage.
Penn State took over at the Indiana 22 and ran three running plays for 1 yard, then Tyler Davis kicked a 39-yard field goal with 1:07 remaining to make it 38-31.
Indiana still had time to try for a game-tying drive and started at its 13 with 1:02 to go. The Hoosiers picked up one first down, but from their 27, linebacker Brandon Bell sacked Lagow for an 18-yard loss. The quarterback fumbled on the play, and Torrence Brown picked it up and ran in it for a 9-yard TD.
“It was really special,” Brown said. “I haven’t scored a touchdown since high school, so it was really, really special to get one in college.”
Indiana played PSU tough in the first half but shot itself in the foot time and again with four turnovers. It was 7-7 late in the half when the Hoosiers punted inside the Lions’ 10, but the ball hit off Isaac James for a fumble, giving Penn State the ball at the Indiana 6.
McSorley found Godwin for a 6-yard score on the next play for a 14-7 lead with 4:43 to go in the half.
The Hoosiers answered late in the half, getting a 12-yard TD run from Redding with 1:00 left to send the teams to the locker room tied at 14.
Indiana kicked a field goal on the opening possession of the second half to take its first lead, and expanded the margin to 24-14 on Redding’s 6-yard score with 3:13 left in the third.
“We were down 10,” McSorley said, “and we’ve been down double digits multiple times late in games. But there’s never that kind of feeling of, we can’t come back from this.”
Come back they did, and now the Lions are 8-2 and still alive for a major bowl game such as the Rose, Orange or Cotton.
“Just that mentality that this team has — never-say-die, never-quit attitude, that’s the biggest thing,” McSorley said.