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Penn State players and coaches won’t bite on revenge motive against Indiana

The Hoosiers upset the Nittany Lions in their 2020 season opener when officials upheld the ruling on a controversial two-point conversion. But James Franklin said the focus is on the 2021 Indiana team

Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. reaches for the end zone for the two point conversation to beat Penn State 36-35 in overtime on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020 at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind.
Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. reaches for the end zone for the two point conversation to beat Penn State 36-35 in overtime on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020 at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind. Read moreAbby Drey /

The play lingers in the memories of Penn State football fans everywhere.

Indiana quarterback Michael Penix lunged toward the pylon in the delayed 2020 season opener against Penn State and was credited with the winning two-point conversion in the Hoosiers’ stunning 36-35 overtime upset of what was then the eighth-ranked team in the nation.

Officials confirmed their decision after a lengthy review even though a millisecond before Penix touched the pylon with the football, his left knee was down, and the ball came in contact with the out-of-bounds line first.

While the Hoosiers used the game as a springboard to a 6-2 season, the Nittany Lions suffered a brutal tailspin in the aftermath that reached 0-5 before they were able to turn it around. With Indiana coming into Beaver Stadium for a Saturday night contest, one would think the home team would be looking for a little payback. Right?

Wrong. The players and their head coach aren’t going for it.

“The only people who I hear use those terms is when I get a question like this,” James Franklin said Tuesday on his weekly Zoom call. “Our entire focus and energy is on beating Indiana this Saturday, this season. Previous records are interesting to look at, but at the end of the day the only thing that really matters is, you have to find a way to beat the team that you are playing this Saturday.

“When we do our film breakdown, especially at this time of year where it’s still fairly early, do you also include our game last year? As long as the coordinators are the same, do you factor that in? Yes. For us, we’re trying to beat [coach] Tom Allen and the Indiana football team for this season, and this season alone.”

Defensive end and linebacker Jesse Luketa didn’t want to get into a 2020 game review, either.

“Hey, it happened,” the senior said Wednesday, with the fourth-ranked Nittany Lions off to a 4-0 start. “I’m not going to waste time and talk about the controversy last year at Indiana. The only thing that matters is this year’s Indiana and how we’re preparing to go 1-0.

“We owned everything from last season. It is what it was. We left with a chip on our shoulder. We’re focused on this year and this Indiana team and being 1-0 at the end of our football game.”

Statistically, last year’s game was rather one-sided, with Penn State holding advantages of 488-211 in total yards and 87-62 in plays, and a nearly 21-minute edge in time of possession. But the Lions made too many mistakes: three turnovers, 10 penalties, three missed field goals.

Senior defensive tackle PJ Mustipher took a more cerebral view of the situation. He said he definitely had to learn that going into games with revenge on his mind was not the proper approach, that the sole focus was preparing for the game at hand and following the 1-0 mentality preached by Franklin.

“It’s so important for us to do that,” he said, “because if we starting thinking about this game, that game, that game, then we’re not all bought in on the game we have to play. If you’re not focused, you’re going to lose just based off who we played each week.

“This year, I’m really starting to understand how important it is, especially if you want to achieve your goals at the end of the season. You can’t achieve them by not doing your job every week. They talked about the revenge game, but for us, we’ve got to go out there and do our job.”

Penix, a redshirt junior who forced the overtime on a two-point conversion run with 22 seconds to go before scoring the game-winner, will face the Lions once again. Allen, who won 2020 Big Ten coach of the year honors, said the Hoosiers’ win over Penn State gave “a tremendous surge of confidence” to his players.

For Mustipher, there is no more talk about last year.

“Last year already happened,” he said. “We can’t do anything about it. We can’t go back and change time. We’re focused on getting ready for this 2021 Indiana team.”

Clifford honored

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford was named a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, an award that honors football performance, academic success, and outstanding leadership.

Clifford, a redshirt senior in his third year as a starter, graduated in December 2020 with a degree in public relations and is pursuing a second undergraduate degree in journalism. He holds a 3.45 cumulative grade point average.

Clifford is among 176 semifinalists for the award, which is sponsored by the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame. The organization will announce the 16 to 18 finalists for the award on Oct. 27.