There came a moment when there was only one way for Penn State to lose Saturday’s heartstopping 2020 season opener, and if you watched it, you saw it ...
… Penn State found it.
The running back who should have stopped short of the goal line, stay off his case. As Devyn Ford approached Indiana’s goal line, he looked like he really wasn’t sure if he should score a touchdown with 102 seconds left. Penn State already had a 21-20 lead and could run out the clock if Ford fell to the ground short of the end zone.
There was so much drama in this game, so much action, so much craziness. So many mistakes and then so many big plays. Penn State almost stole it, but a 57-yard field goal dropped inches under the crossbar.
Indiana took it, 36-35, in overtime on a gutsy call and a referee’s decision that may not have even been the right one. Did that Hoosier get to the goal line? Yes, win. No, lose.
The call on the field was yes, and different replay angles almost seemed to confirm different opinions. That meant the ruling on the field stood.
Congrats to Indiana’s coach, Tom Allen, who went for the two-point conversion right there when the Hoosiers could have kicked an extra point and pushed the game to a second OT, and nobody would have blinked an eye.
He gets the credit, the other guy gets the blame.
James Franklin takes a lot of hits for clock management, and sometimes the heat seems warranted, and other times it seems a little much. The man has won some football games.
He also makes a lot of money. This was his loss. If the very player who was going to end up with the ball wasn’t sure what to do, it didn’t matter how many other players knew ... that’s on the coaches.
"It’s my job to make sure everyone understands those situations, and obviously right there, that didn’t happen,'' Franklin said.
Franklin wasn’t denying that scoring at the end was the wrong move.
"Their chart was telling them to score,'' Franklin said of Indiana basically allowing that Ford TD. “And our chart was telling us not to score.”
There was sideline talk, players said, about not scoring. Maybe Ford wasn’t right there for the conversation, Pat Freiermuth said.
"I told him to stay off social media, and keep your head up,'' Freiermuth said later.
Associated Press voters had respectfully reserved a place in the 2020 Top 10 for 0-0 Penn State, placing the Nittany Lions eighth this week, waiting for the Big Ten season to finally begin.
A professional opening drive could have deluded you into thinking Penn State was ready to hit the season on all cylinders.
Soon enough, you saw it wasn’t like that. When you consider a Sean Clifford screen pass lollipop-ed for one interception and another bad overthrow leading to another interception, and the two interceptions led to 10 Indiana points, maybe down 17-7 at halftime was about right, especially after Wildcat quarterback Will Levis fumbled inside Indiana’s 10 yard line at the end of the first half.
Even after all that, offered a free three points right before halftime, Penn State declined, clanking a 25-yard field goal off the uprights.
Let’s not forget the fumbled kickoff return that put the Nits in a deep hole before the second Clifford interception.
"We have not been a team to get penalties, and we have not been a team to get turnovers, and tonight we got both,'' Franklin said.
Clifford more than redeemed himself in the second half. His touchdown run to end the third quarter could make the season highlight reel. A seam open for a run on second-and-16 from the 35, the first-down sticks suddenly in focus, one IU defender juked by a little move, another missed Clifford’s ankles, a third got a mere touch on his shoulder before he got to the sideline, then the end zone.
Indiana had its own killer gaffe at the very end of regulation, when a squib kick got stubbed by the kicker, and Penn State got the ball in the last minute at midfield. A 57-yard field goal for the win was hit pure and straight but fell just short.
This opener will be remembered for a whole lot, but most of all for being the game Penn State couldn’t lose unless the Nittany Lions somehow lost the ball ... or scored a touchdown. A fumble would have hurt. Scoring a touchdown? That’ll linger.