MINNEAPOLIS – Of all the areas of discussion Saturday after fifth-ranked Penn State suffered its first loss of the season against No. 13 Minnesota, perhaps the loudest one was an offensive pass interference penalty in the red zone that hampered the Nittany Lions’ potential game-winning drive.
The call, against wide receiver Daniel George, negated a completion from Sean Clifford to Journey Brown that moved the ball to the Golden Gophers’ 2. Moved back to the 25, Clifford threw an interception two plays later with 1 minute, 1 second to play, sealing the team’s 31-26 defeat.
Head coach James Franklin said he would not complain about the call, but …
“I hope it’s clear as day but to make that call in that critical a situation … obviously there weren’t many penalties either way but those are critical,” he said. “Overall, I think the officiating has been good. I do not want to be a guy that sits in here and talks about the officials when there’s a lot of things that we could have done better.
“You just hope in critical times like that that it better be clear to make that call at that point in that game.”
The last Penn State snap, a pass intended for KJ Hamler that was intercepted by Jordan Howden, saw some bumping in the secondary of intended receivers Pat Freiermuth and Jahan Dotson.
“It looked to me on that last play, that Freiermuth got tackled over the middle of the field, but we’ll see,” Franklin said.
Hamler feeling blue
It was a busy day for Hamler, who caught seven passes Saturday for 119 yards and piled up 208 all-purpose yards. But he was downcast about the final play.
As he described it, Hamler had to stop to compose himself, telling reporters, “I’m sorry, it’s hard to talk.
“I felt that I beat him,” Hamler said, referring to Howden. “I felt that I beat him and I just didn’t make a play on the ball.”
Asked if he felt the pass was slightly behind him, Hamler replied, “I didn’t make a play on the ball.”
Questionable two-point call
After his team drew to within 24-19 on Clifford’s 10-yard pass to tight end Nick Bowers with 4:05 left in the third quarter, Franklin said he decided to go for the two-point conversion because “it made sense to go for it.”
However, the attempt failed when Ricky Slade was tackled at the 1 after catching a pass from Clifford.
“Obviously, we had the two-point chart like everybody does,” Franklin said. “I talked to the offensive coaches, the defensive coaches, checked the chart, felt like it was the right call in that situation, to be honest with you.
“The way the game played out, it wouldn’t have mattered.”
Perhaps, but had the Lions kicked the extra point to make it 24-20, it might have. Trailing 31-19, their first trip into the red zone in the fourth quarter resulted in a loss of the ball on downs at the Minnesota 5. Had it been 31-20, a field goal would have made it a one-possession game.