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No. 4 Penn State beats Indiana for ninth straight victory | Analysis

Sean Clifford threw three touchdown passes and the Nittany Lions defense limited the Hoosiers to 264 yards of total offense in recording its first shutout in two years.

Penn State sophomore Keyvone Lee (24) ripped off first-half runs of 44 and 21 yards, both of which helped propel his team on a 96-yard drive for its second touchdown.
Penn State sophomore Keyvone Lee (24) ripped off first-half runs of 44 and 21 yards, both of which helped propel his team on a 96-yard drive for its second touchdown.Read moreBarry Reeger / AP

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Fourth-ranked Penn State didn’t have the same kind of free-flowing offense shown earlier in the season, but it received much help from its defense and special teams Saturday night in defeating Indiana, 24-0, before a crowd of 105,591 at Beaver Stadium.

Sean Clifford threw three touchdown passes, two to Jahan Dotson, and the defense of the Nittany Lions (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) held the Hoosiers (2-3, 0-2) to 264 yards of offense in posting their first shutout since a 59-0 blanking of Maryland on Sept. 27, 2019.

Quarterback Michael Penix, the hero of Indiana’s upset of the Lions last season, left the game in the third quarter with an injury to his left (throwing) hand or arm.

» READ MORE: Penn State players requested tougher offseason workouts that have led to a better 2021 to date

Special teams blocked a field goal for the second time this season, when Brandon Smith broke through to disrupt Charles Campbell’s 30-yard attempt. Campbell had been 7-for-7 this season up to that point.

The Lions, who have won nine straight games dating back to last season, now prepare for Saturday’s game at Iowa in what likely will be a matchup of top-five teams.

Getting the run going

The Penn State rushing attack, which failed to hit 100 yards in three of its first four games, showed signs of life Saturday night. The Nittany Lions rushed 42 times for 209 yards, with 123 of them coming in the first half. Sophomore Keyvone Lee ripped off first-half runs of 44 and 21 yards, both of which helped propel his team on a 96-yard drive for its second touchdown. Penn State played four tailbacks in the opening two quarters — Lee, Noah Cain, John Lovett and Devyn Ford — and the attack included a formation with two backs flanking Sean Clifford. Lee finished with a team-high 74 yards in eight carries and Clifford added 58 yards in 10.

Clifford a little off

Clifford, who had passed for 681 yards in the previous two weeks and saw his pass efficiency rating climb to No. 14 in the country, was not quite as sharp Saturday night. He passed for just 96 yards in the first half on 11 completions in 23 attempts, although two of his completions were for touchdowns to Brenton Strange and Jahan Dotson. In the third quarter, Clifford scrambled for 13 yards on a third-and-12 to keep alive a drive that was capped by his 30-yard pass on fourth down to Dotson for his third TD pass of the night. He finished the game 17-of-33 for 178 yards, with one interception. The two touchdown passes to Dotson were the 17th and 18th times the two men had accounted for a TD, a program record. The Lions rolled up 408 yards of total offense and ran 76 plays to 57 for Indiana.

Defense rules the day again

The Penn State defense held Indiana to one first down in the opening 20 minutes of the game and 137 total yards in the first half en route to its first shutout of the season. The Nittany Lions, who entered the game allowing only eight scores (five touchdowns) on 13 trips by opponents in the red zone, were 2-for-2 in holding the Hoosiers scoreless inside the 20. Clifford threw an interception that gave Indiana the ball at the Penn State 13 in the first quarter, but the Lions held the visitors just inches short on fourth down. Indiana later got as far as the Penn State 13 in the third quarter and decided to line up for a field goal, but Smith, a linebacker, blocked the attempt.

Special teams

Jordan Stout did triple duty again, drilling five kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks, punting six times for a 46.3-yard average, and kicking a season-best 50-yard field goal that closed the scoring with 8 minutes, 6 seconds to play in the fourth quarter. Dotson was able to shake loose on a punt return only once, but his 16-yard runback to the Indiana 32 set up the Stout field goal.

Missed third-and-1 calls

The Nittany Lions struggled on third-and-short, hampered by some strange play calls. In the second quarter, they faced third-and-1, but a quarterback draw by Clifford lost 2 yards. Later in the period, Clifford saw Dotson single-covered on the outside and decided to go to him on a third-and-1 but the pass, which was about 25 yards downfield, was overthrown. They also missed on a third-and-short in the third quarter when Lee needed 2 yards but gained 1. For the game, Penn State went 6-of-16 on third down and held the Hoosiers to 3-of-14.