A week after suffering its first loss, No. 9 Penn State (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten) didn’t exactly rebound in crisp fashion at home against Indiana (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten) on Saturday. But after 60 minutes of play, the Nittany Lions will take a win any way they can as they get set for a massive test next week. A late touchdown run by Sean Clifford provided the much-needed breathing room as Penn State fought for a 34-27 victory.
After Indiana trimmed Penn State’s lead to 27-24 in the fourth quarter, Penn State orchestrated an 18-play drive that shaved off over nine minutes of game clock. Clifford ended the drive by pushing across the goal line for a touchdown to create a late two-score game. Clifford lost a fumble in the game but did not throw an interception a week after being picked off three times. Clifford ended his day with 179 passing yards and a touchdown pass to Nick Bowers, and Clifford added 54 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns in the victory.
Penn State also had another 100-yard day from running back Journey Brown (21 carries, 100 yards, 1 touchdown) and two big catches from tight end Pat Freiermuth (although no touchdowns). Penn State lost wide receiver KJ Hamler to an apparent head injury in the first half. His status moving forward will now be in some question.
Indiana also lost its top playmaker with receiver Whop Philyor leaving the game late in the first half. Peyton Ramsey and the Hoosiers still managed to make some plays to keep drives alive (Ramsey passed for 371 yards and a touchdown and scored two touchdowns on the ground), and a pair of special teams mishaps didn’t help in the effort. Philyor muffed a punt in the first quarter that ultimately led to a Penn State touchdown (although video replay showed he may not have touched the ball, but not strong enough to overturn the call on the field), and one of the worst fake punt attempts was quickly turned into a big Penn State touchdown in the third quarter.
Next up for Penn State is a big one. The Nittany Lions travel to Columbus, Ohio next week to take on Ohio State. The undefeated Buckeyes (barring a monumental upset on the road at Rutgers today) will be the biggest test of the year for a Penn State team that has had room for improvement across the board the last few weeks. First place in the Big Ten East will be on the line, and there is a chance Ohio State could wrap up the division with a win. Penn State needs to win to have a shot at the Big Ten championship and to remain in the playoff race heading into the final game of the regular season.
Indiana will play its final home game of the season next week when they host Michigan.
A week after giving up the first two first-quarter touchdowns of the season, Penn State’s defense was unable to lock things down early against Indiana. Despite a tough first quarter, Penn State leads the Hoosiers 20-14 at halftime in Happy Valley as the Nittany Lions attempt to keep their playoff hopes alive for one more week.
Both teams seem to have lost their biggest playmakers in the first half. KJ Hamler had his helmet taken away on the sideline after appearing to land on his head awkwardly at the end of a kickoff return. Indiana’s Whop Philyor was taken to the sideline medical tent after being hit hard and fumbling in the second quarter. There was no targeting on the play, which was confirmed by the video replay review during a timeout. Without their top wide receivers, neither offense has looked particularly sharp despite a back-and-forth first quarter.
Sean Clifford rushed for a 38-yard touchdown and completed a touchdown pass to tight end Nick Bowers in the first quarter, but the offense has had a tough time keeping things going against Indiana. Hamler had 52 yards on two receptions before leaving the game, and he remains the leading receiver for Penn State. Philyor had 50 yards on two receptions as well. The bigger concern for Penn State has been the pass defense, which struggled against Minnesota last week and has its hands full against the top-ranked passing offense in the conference.
Peyton Ramsey and the Hoosiers are hanging around and will get the ball to start the second half.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. This week, Nebraska head coach Scott Frost allowed his team to come out wearing black jerseys with the idea it would fire up his team to get a big win at home. Maybe next time they’ll wear some other color, because the black jerseys did nothing on Saturday as Indiana left Lincoln, Nebraska with a 38-31 victory. But even more than that, Indiana has officially clinched bowl eligibility before the month of November and has a chance to clinch its first winning season since 2007 with a full month of games to play.
For Tom Allen, getting to bowl eligibility has been an elusive goal the past couple of seasons. After back-to-back 5-7 seasons, Indiana has finally gotten back over the hump and it won’t have to come down to the final week of the regular season. An emotional Allen after the game reflected on how hard his team has worked to get to this point, and hinted at some tough situations nobody outside the program was aware of.
Peyton Ramsey passed for 351 yards and two touchdowns in the winning effort for the Hoosiers. Whop Philyor was on the receiving end for 178 of those yards on 14 receptions. The defense was not required in this game, although Indiana did force two Nebraska turnovers. Both teams combined for 969 yards of total offense, both teams were converting on about half of their third-down tries to extend drives. A 15-3 scoring advantage in the third quarter flipped the game in Indiana’s favor as they were able to hold off Nebraska.
Indiana’s last winning season came in 2007 with a 7-6 record. Although Indiana went to bowl games in 2015 and 2016, the Hoosiers ended the year with bowl losses and 6-7 final records. Indiana has not won a bowl game since the 1991 season with a Copper Bowl victory over Baylor.
While Indiana already has bowl eligibility locked up with four games remaining in November, Nebraska is now in need of two more wins with time beginning to run out. Nebraska will try to get one win closer to bowl eligibility next week on the road against Purdue. The Huskers have their two toughest games remaining at home, against Wisconsin on Nov. 16 and against Iowa on Nov. 29. It’s possible Nebraska’s bowl hopes will have to be satisfied on the road (at Purdue and at Maryland on Nov. 23).
Nebraska has not missed a bowl season in three consecutive seasons since a stretch from 1955 through 1961.